Ailing Chinese Vice Premier And Jiang Ally Dies in Beijing

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 2, 2007

BEIJING, June 2 -- Vice Premier Huang Ju, a reformer who helped guide China through a period of swift economic change, died in a Beijing hospital early Saturday after a long illness, the government announced. He was reported to be suffering from cancer and had largely disappeared from public view in the past year.

Huang's death, expected for months, created a vacancy on the Communist Party's nine-man Politburo Standing Committee, giving President Hu Jintao the opportunity to bring another ally into the party's senior ruling group. Huang, 68, had spent much of his career in Shanghai and was identified with former president Jiang Zemin and his Shanghai-based proteges.

Huang, known for his large, wire-rimmed glasses and quizzical eyebrows, was said by some government officials to have had pancreatic cancer. But the traditionally secretive party never formally told the Chinese public about his condition and in announcing his death, the official New China News Agency did not specify his fatal illness.

A statement from the party and government praised Huang, however, as "an excellent member of the Communist Party of China, a long-tested and faithful Communist fighter and an outstanding leader of the party and the state."

At Huang's last known public appearance, during the annual legislative session in March, he appeared waxy-skinned and weak as he sat with other senior party leaders. Even before then, he had canceled most of his official schedule and was reported to be receiving treatment.

A Hong Kong newspaper sometimes used by the Chinese government to leak information reported that Huang had been transferred in late April from Shanghai to the No. 301 Military Hospital in Beijing. The highly rated hospital has traditionally been the place where China's senior leaders go for medical treatment.

According to several specialists, Huang was scheduled to retire in any case so new members of the Politburo and its Standing Committee could be named during the 17th Party Congress this fall. Since Hu assumed control of the party in 2002, he has been steadily building his power base, placing loyal lieutenants in such key spots.

China's senior officials, whether labeled as Hu's followers or Jiang's, agree on the need for continued economic liberalization, an experienced diplomat pointed out. Most of the jockeying for personnel changes arises from the desire to place proteges rather than from political differences, he said.

Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao have also sought to give higher priority than Jiang did to the needs of farmers and others left behind by China's economic growth. Huang was not known to have clashed with Hu over those priorities.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company