China’s old guard clings to power via new leaders


Beijing : On the face of it, state and Communist Party leader Hu Jintao has consolidated his control of China’s ruling party.

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The 370-member Central Committee re-elected Hu as party general secretary for another five years Monday, and his “scientific outlook on development” was enshrined Sunday in the party’s constitution at the end of its congress, held every five years.

Yet some analysts said they believe still-powerful retired leaders have forced Hu to compromise over the selection of the four younger men inducted Monday into the elite, nine-member standing committee of the party’s Politburo.

“It appears that Hu has been able to consolidate his power in the Central Committee and perhaps the politburo, but he does not control the standing committee,” said David Zweig, a China expert at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Secret negotiations reportedly underlay the show of unity when Hu unveiled four new standing committee members Monday.

Most attention focussed on the two youngest, 54-year-old Xi Jinping and 52-year-old Li Keqiang.

Xi and Li are the favourites to replace Hu when he retires from the party leadership at its next congress in 2012 under its age- and tenure-linked rules.

Li is considered a protégé of Hu, 64, while Xi is seen as closer to former leader Jiang Zemin and his ally Zeng Qinghong, who retired from the party leadership Sunday.

Hu was apparently forced to accept Xi as a possible successor by allies of Jiang and Zeng, Willy Lam, a veteran China analyst from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said.

“No doubt Hu has emerged as the ‘new helmsman’ and perhaps even the ‘core’ of the ‘fourth generation’ leadership,” Lam said, referring to previous generations under Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang.

“But on the Politburo standing committee, Hu only managed to put one protégé — Li Keqiang — in,” he said.

“So Hu has to accept give-and-take and compromises with other standing committee members still loyal to Zeng Qinghong or even Jiang Zemin,” Lam said.

The two other new members of the standing committee, He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang, are also seen as closer to Zeng.

Lam said he believes Hu faces fewer challenges from other standing committee members in his control of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which is under the formal supervision of the party’s Central Military Commission.

Hu heads the commission and faces no other military leaders on the standing committee.

“As the only standing committee member with power over the PLA and the People’s Armed Police, Hu has a big, big advantage over the others,” Lam said.

“In the coming five years, Hu will focus on foreign and military policy, where he faces no challenge and where his room for manoeuvre is much, much bigger than in domestic policy,” he said.

But there are rumours of lingering divisions within the Army, in which some generals are said to remain loyal to former party, state and military leader Jiang.

Xi and Li both stated their loyalty to Hu in comments reported by state media during last week’s congress.

“Comrade Hu Jintao’s report is comprehensive in content, deep in thought, rigorous in analysis,” Xi was quoted as saying of his leader’s report to the congress.

Xi said Hu’s report of the party’s work over the past five years reflected the “latest achievements of the Sinification of Marxism” and the “strong belief to unite and lead the whole nation.”

Xi may well change his tune over the next five years, but any opposition to Hu’s policies is likely to be kept behind the closely guarded doors of standing committee meetings.