Hu, 69, is battling strong head winds. He has long been seen as having a weak grip on power. And rampant criticism has bubbled up within the Communist Party about problems that have festered under his watch — including the increasing divide between rich and poor, widespread corruption and the growing need for economic reform.
But Hu’s biggest challenge is the same one he has faced throughout his tenure: his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, 86, who continues to be the dominant force in Chinese politics.
According to several current and former officials, party intellectuals, advisers and analysts — who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of heightened party sensitivities ahead of the once-a-decade leadership transition — Jiang is trying to secure key spots for his allies during the upcoming transition and, by many accounts, is succeeding.
The most important appointments, to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, will be announced during the party congress, which begins Thursday.
To help Hu make his case, the propaganda machine in Beijing has been in overdrive for months. Front-page stories have exalted “the golden decade” he has overseen, and state TV has reported pointedly on how incredibly happy the populace is these days. Last month, the government unveiled at least 20 books, eight brochures and nine documentaries chronicling “the brilliant achievements” made possible by Hu’s vague ideology of systematic progress through “scientific development.”
The furious competition between the two senior statesmen — and their large role in the patronage system that undergirds Chinese politics — only adds to the pressure on Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over the top job, becoming the first party leader in China’s history forced to contend with two former chiefs hovering over him.
“Hu is trying to do with his successor what Jiang did to Hu and what even earlier Deng Xiaoping did to Jiang,” said an editor of a party publication. “Each generation tries to hold sway over the next.”
‘A battle over personnel’
Some analysts caution against viewing China’s politics solely through the prism of Jiang vs. Hu. “It’s not always so clear-cut to say who is in which group,” one retired party official said.
There are also other players: the military, powerful state-owned enterprises and the rising class of “princelings” to which Xi belongs — leaders descended from former senior officials.
But there is widespread agreement that the two biggest centers of power in China today are Jiang and Hu.