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Robert M. Liu

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Is President Hu Jintao in Control?
by Robert M. Liu   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, August 13, 2005
Posted: Tuesday, August 09, 2005

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Chinese president Hu Jintao will visit the U.S. and meet with President Bush next month. Most likely, Hu Jintao will stick to the bottom line of the CPC's Politburo during the summit talks.

Is President Hu Jintao in Control?

-- By Robert M. Liu

Chinese president Hu Jintao will visit the U.S. and meet with President Bush next month (i.e. September of 2005). Most likely, during the summit talks, he will stick to the consensus bottom line of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China (the CPC) with regard to where he can make concessions and where he cannot.

After watching him on TV for nearly three years, I am wondering whether President Hu Jintao is in control. For starters, he is not as charismatic as his predecessor former president Jiang Zemin, though, like Jiang, he too has a moderate image.

My impressions are that former president Jiang Zemin, who was also general secretary of the CPC's Central Committee and chairman of the CPC's Central Military Commission, acted far more naturally and with far more confidence, which was a signal that he was his own man, capable of calling the shots wherever he could. Occasionally, he would tell the public what he really was thinking and give a few subtle hints as to what he could and could not do.

For instance, a few years ago, when he was visiting Hong Kong, some young reporters there insisted on asking him difficult questions about the city's political future. Somehow, President Jiang Zemin appeared to be upset. After having suggested that of course he would support Mr. C.H. Tung (the then-chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region), he said that he'd rather talk less for fear the reporters should pile criticisms on him. "You folks are just too young, too naive," he added.

At the time, critics regarded those words from Jiang as a poor performance. I, however, came to a different conclusion after reading the interview as reported in the Chinese-language media. I felt that there was a clear message embedded in his words that he, President Jiang Zemin, was not in a position where he could do what the young reporters would like him to do -- namely, to speed up Hong Kong's democratization process.

Put in plain English, "You folks are just too young, too naive" means: "You folks just don't know what kind of difficulties I have to face in the Politburo." Today, the top position in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China is no longer as powerful as it once was in the Mao era. As general secretary of the CPC's Central Committee, Jiang Zemin had to watch the hardliners in the military and keep the boat steady before deciding what he could and could not do.

Now, President Hu Jintao, who also holds the position of general secretary of the CPC's Central Committee as well as chairman of the CPC's Central Military Commission, is much younger, less experienced, and less charismatic than his predecessor. Yet he has to watch the same hardliners and face the same kind of difficulties in the Politburo as his predecessor. There is no reason to believe that he can handle the situation any better than former President Jiang Zemin. Chances are that his relative young age may induce even more challenges from the hardliners.

Apparently, the moderate faction of the CPC, which includes President Hu Jintao and his predecessor Jiang Zemin, as well as former premier Zhu Rongji and current premier Wen Jiabao, wants to improve U.S.-China relations and trade ties, since this is in the best interest of China's economy and export business.

But it seems that the hardliners don't care. Hence, tough guy Major General Zhu Chenghu of the University of National Defense jumped over the top lately, telling Western reporters that China would launch nuclear missiles to destroy hundreds of U.S. cities if America came to Taiwan's rescue in the event of Beijing's military action against the island. According to transcripts leaked to the press of the general's other speeches, he had said the same thing in private meetings. He definitely sounds insane.

And yet, the official response from Beijing to questions about General Zhu Chenghu's anti-U.S. rant is: "It is only his personal opinion."

The thing is that China is not a free country that allows individuals the freedom to say whatever they want to say and that the Communist Party of China is supposed to be an extremely well- disciplined political organization that requires its members and especially its high-ranking officials to stay in line with the policy of the CPC's Central Committee.

So, inevitably, questions arise. Does General Zhu Chenghu's "personal opinion" represent the stance of many other powerful persons in the military? Why doesn't the CPC's Central Military Commission discipline him? Or can it? Since when has the CPC become a club of insanity featuring nuts like General Zhu Chenghu at press conferences? And last but not least, is President Hu Jintao in control?

To me, the problem is that, unlike his predecessor Jiang Zemin, President Hu Jintao doesn't appear to be his own man. He does not act natural. It is as if he were an apprentice who has to watch every step he takes, lest he should displease his boss. His demeanor is more like that of a man who takes orders from somebody else than of a leader who tells his followers what they should do.

For example, based on documents leaked to the press, President Hu Jintao recently instructed party officials that the CPC should learn from North Korea in the area of political ideology. This may be hard to carry out but will certainly appease the hardliners. The question is whether President Hu Jintao issued such ridiculous instructions of his own accord or because he was under pressure from the hardliners to do "the politically correct thing".

The fact is that, because of China's late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's policy of reform and openness, there is now far more freedom in China than in North Korea. Consequently, there is far less ideological control in China than in North Korea. If you visit China, you will see that few people there would give a damn about Marxism-Leninism. Only the hardliners are concerned that less ideological control could weaken the CPC's ability to maintain its one-party rule.

Nevertheless, North Korea's unsavory reputation stinks so badly that even CPC officials may find it unpalatable to "learn" its political ideology. Besides, if China has enjoyed relative political stability since 1992, it is because China's economic growth has been steady while China's moderate leadership has been trying to improve U.S.-China relations and trade ties, not because of "learning from North Korea".

[August 12, 2005]

Web Site: Is President Hu Jintao in Control?

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Reviewed by Jennifer Butler 8/10/2005
Here, you need to write don't instead of don?t.

Books by
Robert M. Liu

A Guide to Chinese Affairs

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Shanghai Escapist

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