Beijing’s power struggle is still being played out

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Editorial

There are indications that the reforms spearheaded by Beijing’s new leadership of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao are facing resistance from strongman Jiang Zemin, who controls the powerful Central Military Commission. One sign, according to reports from mainland China, is that a large number of Politburo members as well as State Council ministers flocked to Beidaihe, the seaside resort outside Beijing, for a conference called by the party central, in defiance of the instruction of Hu and Wen who forbid party and government cadres to spend their summer days at Beidaihe.

Another report says those officials, most of them Jiang’s men, went to Beidaihe to attend Jiang’s 78th birthday on Aug. 17, and to persuade him to stay on the job because Jiang is rumored to be retiring at the forthcoming fourth plenum meeting of the 16th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party next month. The Hu-Wen leadership does not wield complete power because of Jiang, who relinquished the presidency to Hu in March, 2003 but has kept his grip on the military. Many of Jiang’s proteges hold key party and government positions and do not cooperate with their new bosses. The situation is particularly serious in the State Council. The reform-minded Wen Jiabao has been eager to push forward reforms in many areas; social, political, financial and economic. His “macro control” to cool down the overheated economy hit a snag when special interest groups fought back with the help of their powerful allies in the State Council. Hu and Wen do not enjoy the kind of near-absolute power of the late Deng Xiaoping, who was unchallenged in carrying out his reforms in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. What Hu and Wen have achieved, with limited power, is the support from the grassroots whose hearts and minds have been won by the two top officials. But there is no denying a power struggle between Hu-Wen and Jiang, and the latter is winning so far. This can be seen in Hu’s recent pronouncements in which he no longer stressed the importance of economic reform as the most vital interest. Instead, he chanted the slogan of military first advocated by Jiang. “If national defense construction is not done well,” he told a Politburo meeting recently, “a secure environment for economic construction can hardly be assured.” This was a clear admission that economic reform, which he had regarded as the “central task,” is now playing second fiddle to Jiang’s military agenda. It seems that until and unless Jiang steps down to let Hu and Wen wield real power, mainland China’s reforms can hardly make rapid progress. It may take at least a year or two to see Jiang give up power, possibly under the pressure of the party’s elders who are angry at Jiang’s reluctance to retire in violation of a tacit agreement that all septuagenarian CCP leaders must step down.