Year of the (Dark) Horse: Hu Jintao

Thursday, November 14, Chinese President Jiang Zemin and five other leaders resigned their posts in a well-choreographed transfer of power to the “fourth generation” of leaders, as the Chinese Communist party Congress drew to a close in Beijing. Prime Minister Zhu Rongji and Party Number Two Li Peng also stepped down, while vice president Hu Jantao stepped forward into the limelight as the new ruler of the most populous country on earth.
Friday, November 15, the new Central Committee will hold its first session to choose the new Politburo and the select group that will act as China’s next supreme governing council.
On February 22, DEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 50, (To subscribe click HERE.)carried a profile of China’s next ruler, who appears to have sprung from the more obscure recesses of Chinese government. Not quite, as we see from a summary of that article hereunder.
Would-be reformer or faceless apparatchik?
The enigmatic profile of China’s next ruler, 59-year old Vice-President Hu Jintao will be examined under a magnifying glass in most world capitals. His resume is open, yet unrevealing. It shows an orthodox Communist bureaucrat playing by the rules of the apparat on his way up the ladder, but gives no clues to how he will handle the top job in the 15 years in which he could hold it. There is no clue to how, for instance, he will address the hottest dilemma facing China: How much longer can this great country continue to play the double game of maintaining a fast-growing, open, capitalist economy out of a closed, illiberal political system.
After presiding over China’s economic leap forward, President Jiang Zemin, 75, is relinquishing power after more than a decade and handing over his post of secretary general of the Communist party into the ready hands of his heir apparent, a member of the next generation.
Last year, after Hu, the youngest of China’s top five, was tipped as the coming man, it was found necessary to begin urgent repairs on a major hole in his grooming: his lack of experience in foreign affairs. The rising leader, who had never been known to travel, appear in an interview with a foreign media outlet or make friends with an American diplomat, was dispatched in October 2001 on a coming-out whirl of foreign parts, Moscow, Paris, Berlin, London, Tokyo, Amman, Minsk, Madrid. His hosts danced attendance but were left puzzled by his impenetrable image. China’s future ruler had nothing clear to say on democracy, human rights, the global economy or other thorny issues, such as Taiwan, weapons proliferation and religious and political freedoms. He stuck to such safe issues as anti-terrorism, much on every mind in the weeks after the September 11 terror attacks on America.
President George W. Bush, during his two-day visit to China, February 21-22, was not allowed a tete-a-tete with the mystery man, on the pretext of protocol. They rubbed shoulders publicly at the top table of President Jiang Zemin’s banquet in honor of his American guest. They met again in public when the vice president chaired Bush’s appearance and speech at Tsinghua University, of which the Chinese Vice President is a hydraulic engineering graduate. Later this year, Hu was again in Washington on a visit that left but a faint imprint.

Behind the bland face, the Chinese vice president’s career does not portend a successor more amenable than Jiang, but rather a conservative hardliner, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Beijing sources.
In 1989, as party secretary in Tibet, he imposed martial law allowing soldiers to open fire on Tibetans protesting Chinese rule. In summer 2002, he was quoted as vowing to crush Tibetan dissenters, although later he offered to meet the exiled Dalai Lama. Hu is also reported to have supported the military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square uprising.
Ten years later, he slammed the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo war, authorizing protest demonstrations outside the US and British embassies in Beijing. He is quoted as issuing strong anti-American statements at the time, warning that the United States meant to put China down as a world power.
Hu became vice president in 1998 and, a year later, won his first military post as deputy chairman to Jiang on the powerful Central Military Commission.
The Communist power-brokers who put Hu forward are not averse to using Western-style spin doctors. Earlier this year, press releases began to come out of Beijing playing up his liberal side as a potential reformer. They pointed to the liberal curriculum at the Communist Party School on the outskirts of Beijing, of which the future ruler is president, where students study European social-democratic political parties, free-market economics and Western management methods. One recent research paper recommended the leadership do more for “inner-party democracy”.
Vice President Hu may be a conservative at heart, but he is too canny to try and turn China back from its pragmatic thrust towards rapid economic development and focus on the profit motive. He will no doubt continue his predecessors’ attempts to shut out alien interference in China’s human, civil and religious policies by arguing they are internal affairs. But China’s youngest ruler may discover that the arbitrary lines between the two halves of the national ethos are in the last reckoning artificial and he will have to bend sometimes to international winds.

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