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Chinese leader solidifies power { June 28 2003 }

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   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A43022-2003Jun27.html?nav=hptoc_w

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A43022-2003Jun27.html?nav=hptoc_w

Chinese Leader Solidifies Power
Defying Predictions, President Hu Raises Hopes for Change

By John Pomfret
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 28, 2003; Page A18


BEIJING -- China's new president, Hu Jintao, has moved rapidly to solidify his hold on power and, seven months after becoming Communist Party chief, has defied predictions that he would labor under the shadow of his predecessor, according to political analysts.

Hu has profited from crises -- China's battle against SARS and an extremely sensitive corruption investigation in Shanghai, the analysts said. In foreign, domestic and military affairs, he has moved decisively to distinguish himself from the old government, led by Jiang Zemin. And Hu has accomplished these feats by avoiding, so far, the mistake made by two fallen Communist Party chiefs: He is carrying out this political rise without slighting Jiang.

"We used to be worried that Hu would not succeed as a politician," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of political science at People's University. "We are not worried anymore."

Hu's rise has been so smooth that it has led some intellectuals in Beijing to hope that he will push significant political reforms of the communist system.

He has backed experiments in limited political change, the first such experimentation in years. He has established a group to revise the constitution, possibly to protect private property. In May, he became the first Chinese leader to attend a meeting of the Group of Eight industrial countries, shelving his predecessors' contention that it was a "rich man's club" and that China's interests lay solidly within the developing world. And, despite a recent crackdown on the tightly controlled media, Hu has directed propaganda chiefs to prepare the media for greater foreign investment and told them to dismantle the antiquated system of publishing permits, sources close to the government said.

"There are huge expectations of Hu," Shi said, "for political reform, economic reform and foreign policy reform."

However, many of the expectations, Shi and other analysts agreed, appear to be wishful thinking. Nothing in the biography of Hu, who is 60 and was trained as a hydrologist, points to a man ready to dismantle Communist Party rule. Hu is interested not in creating a democracy, but in "improving the efficiency of the state," Shi said.

Nonetheless, the analysts said, Hu's rise has helped broaden the terms of political discourse here. For the first time in years, normally conservative Communist Party publications are writing about the need for significant political openness. Hu is expected to float several plans for limited political restructuring in a speech on Tuesday marking the 82nd anniversary of the Communist Party.

A trial balloon was floated in the weekly magazine Seeking Truth, which published an article on democracy inside the party. The lesson of the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, the article said, is that "the failure to develop the economy and improve people's livelihood is a dead end and the failure to reform the political system is also a dead end." Political change, it said, is the only "practical choice" of the party.

The essay proposed experiments in increasing internal party democracy, including holding competitive elections for some important positions and opening certain decisions to more participation from rank-and-file party members -- not exactly popular democracy, but small steps toward opening China's system.

Du Gangjian, a professor at the National School of Administration whose students have included current government officials, predicted Hu will push ahead with a revision of the constitution, expansion of democracy inside the Communist Party and some loosening of controls on the China's media.

Hu was appointed general secretary of the Communist Party following its 16th Congress in November. He became president in March. Jiang, Hu's predecessor in both positions, stacked the nine-member Standing Committee of the Politburo, the party's most powerful body, with at least five allies. Jiang also retained his job as head of the Central Military Commission.

In the party, Hu was surrounded by Jiang's allies. Many observers and Chinese officials predicted that it would take Hu years to win power. Hu was especially vulnerable in the first months of his tenure, said Wu Guoguang, a former government official now at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Wu said Jiang would have been able to remove Hu easily and replace him with an ally.

"But that's not the case anymore," Wu said. "Hu has very quickly consolidated his position and as time passes his power will grow."

Indeed, Hu now heads three of the country's most important "leading groups" within the party, dealing with U.S.-China relations, Taiwan and the economy, party sources said. In May, Hu also chaired a meeting of the Politburo on military reorganization, the first major meeting on the military not attended by Jiang.


2003 The Washington Post Company



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