Jiang Puts Hard Line To the Test In China
Ex-President Limits Leaders' Options on Hong Kong, Taiwan
By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 31, 2004; Page A01
BEIJING, May 30 -- China's former president, Jiang Zemin, is strengthening his hold on power by promoting a hard-line approach toward Hong Kong and Taiwan, making it more difficult for the country's new leaders to consider concessions on either issue, according to sources in the government and the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Jiang and his successor, President Hu Jintao, have not clashed over the policies, the sources said, and Hu also favors a firm stand against Taiwan's push for independence and Hong Kong's demands for democratic reform. But Jiang has limited Hu's room to maneuver in tackling two of the most sensitive problems facing his government, the sources said.
A prolonged struggle for power between Jiang's allies and those who support Hu has created a dynamic in which any senior leader who argues for even a slightly more moderate policy risks being attacked by rivals in the other camp as too weak to govern, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity and said they favor neither faction.
"Policy is being used as a weapon in the power struggle," said one government official with access to the senior leadership. "Under these conditions, no one wants to be soft. Everyone wants to be tougher."
Though Hu took over as the party's general secretary in late 2002 and as president in March 2003, Jiang, 77, continues to wield influence as chief of the nation's military. Sources say he is resisting pressure to retire and to relinquish that post to Hu at a key party meeting later this year and that he is using the challenges posed by Taiwan and Hong Kong to his advantage.
Jiang has also packed the ruling Politburo Standing Committee with his allies and may be considering an attempt to have Hu replaced.
The rivalry between Jiang and Hu has led some officials to complain in private that the party has "two centers," a phrase used in Chinese politics to describe a dangerous split in the leadership. Some expressed concern about the risk of political instability and paralysis in government at a time when the party is confronting rising social discontent and managing a painful transition to capitalism.
The uncertainty over the leadership has slowed party decision-making on various issues. For example, Hu and his partner, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, want to devote resources to the country's interior and its rusting industrial northeast, while Jiang and his allies are trying to preserve economic benefits for their power base in the Shanghai region, the sources said.
But they said the impact of the rivalry is most evident in Beijing's decision to stand by Hong Kong's unpopular chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, who was appointed by Jiang, and to rule out direct elections in 2007 to choose his successor. The competition for power has also made any compromise with Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian less likely, they said.
Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have been running high since Chen narrowly won reelection in March after waging a pro-independence campaign. He has offered to hold talks with China without preconditions, but Beijing has insisted that Chen first acknowledge that Taiwan is part of China. The Beijing government has also threatened to attack the self-governing island if it moves toward formal independence.
Wen has already been criticized by Jiang's camp for not taking a strong enough stand on Taiwan during his trip to the United States last December, even though President Bush issued a strong rebuke of Chen during the visit, party sources said. Wen was also criticized for sounding too conciliatory after visiting Hong Kong on the day of the mass anti-government protests there last July, the sources said.
Jiang further asserted his authority over Hong Kong and Taiwan policy during a tour of southern Guangdong province in January and February that party officials said recalled a similar swing through the region in 1992 by China's last paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, who was fighting a challenge by party conservatives at the time.
State media did not report Jiang's visit, and government spokesmen declined to comment on it. But local officials confirmed that Jiang spent a few weeks receiving visitors at a guesthouse on an island on the Pearl River in Guangzhou. Employees at a cultural park in nearby Shenzhen also confirmed Jiang's visit, adding that he mounted the stage and danced with Tibetan and Uighur performers.
A party source said Jiang used the trip to emphasize his experience in Taiwanese affairs and the volatility of cross-strait relations by inspecting several military units in Guangdong that would participate in any conflict with Taiwan.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company