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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

STEADY AS SHE GOES

Jiang Zemin Strengthens His Position as Deng Xiaoping's Heir


IN A SPEECH EARLIER this year to China's leaders, Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji spoke of a need to moderate the country's headlong rush toward development. The goal of market socialism was correct, he said, but it should not be pursued with such vigor that national stability was jeopardized. "What we want is a pace that is fast but healthy," the economic czar told his colleagues. "Attaining speed is easy, but maintaining continuity and robustness is difficult."

His words seem to have dictated the style and substance of the 5th Plenum of the Communist Party's 14th Central Committee, which met behind closed doors in Beijing for four days last week to endorse a new Five-Year Plan. Politically, the conclave offered further evidence that President Jiang Zemin was consolidating his position as Deng Xiaoping's successor. In particular, he was able to appoint two allies to top positions in the Central Military Commission (CMC), which controls the armed forces. Yet signs remained that he did not have his way on every matter.

While the 4th Plenum of 1994 had been dominated by high-level personnel changes, the primary achievement this year was to put the official stamp on China's 9th Five-Year Plan and other economic documents that will steer the nation into the next century. The blueprints reflect a determination to continue market reforms, though at a more measured pace. The key terms used to describe the nation's economic strategy were "balance" and "healthy, sustainable development."

Would that dampen the spirit of reform or adversely affect foreign participation ? "Enterprise reform and outside participation are important factors in our economic stability," Vice-President Rong Yiren told Asiaweek last week. "We will continue to attract and utilize foreign capital. Stability is not achieved recklessly. It is by stabilizing our growth rate that we can improve the efficiency of our economy." The plenum foresaw annual expansion of 8% to 9%, a touch below the supercharged rates of recent years. Even at that pace, GDP by 2000 will be more than six times larger than it was in 1980. By 2010, the planners believe, even that figure will double.

The conclave also saw the formal ouster of the highest-level leader in years. Chen Xitong, who had been removed as Beijing's party chief in late April, lost his positions in the Politburo and Central Committee, the party's top organs. The Beijing municipal congress nullified his membership in the National People's Congress. Chen, said the plenum communiqué, "had become corrupt and degenerate . . . and used his powers to provide illicit gains for his relatives."

Significantly, the disgraced cadre, a key rival of Jiang's, was allowed to keep his party membership. It was not clear whether Chen is in prison, even though the president probably would like to send him there as an example to others. One Beijing source claims that Chen is being held in comfortable house arrest in Inner Mongolia. Others say he is confined in the capital's Qincheng Prison, where Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing was detained until her suicide in 1991. Two major Chen allies, Beijing Mayor Li Qiyan and Executive Vice-Mayor Zhang Baifa, remain active in their posts and show no signs of being in political trouble.

There are reasons for the central leadership not to hound Chen. One is that he proved his loyalty by taking a tough stand against the demonstrations of 1989 that culminated in the Tiananmen crackdown. Another: party chiefs may be wary about taking their campaign against corruption too far, lest it spark political upheaval. "How many senior officials are there who are completely untainted by graft?" asks a veteran cadre in Beijing. "The capital may be corrupt, but so are many other regions."

Historically, too, China's rulers have treated Beijing - which even Mao likened to an independent kingdom - with kid gloves. A retired army general, formerly stationed in the strategically important Beijing Military Region, predicts that "even if the others prove as crooked [as Chen], the top leaders will only move slowly to weed them out." President Jiang is said to be particularly concerned about the broader implications of the case. "I can't sleep at night," he reportedly told colleagues. "I worry for the nation, the party and the people."

The promotions of two of Jiang's leading army backers, Chief of General Staff Zhang Wannian, 67, and Defense Minister Chi Haotian, 66, were not unexpected. According to insiders, their elevation to CMC vice-chairmanships had been in the works for more than a year. Chi, says an army source, is a man who "fulfills his duties and faithfully follows his orders." That will be an attractive attribute to Jiang, who, though CMC chairman, came to office without a personal power base in the armed forces. Chinese analysts believe Zhang and Chi will eventually replace Liu Huaqing, 79, and Zhang Zhen, 80, who were given the military's top two uniformed posts by Deng.

Indeed, rejuvenation in the army already began in August with the mass retirement of senior officers over 65. Many of their successors are products of the country's military academies. They lack the combat ties stemming from the Civil War or the Korean War that cemented the loyalties of the older commanders to Deng's generation of leaders. The move not only makes for a more professional officer corps but also allows Jiang to expand his influence in the military.

The president, though, was unable to promote other key allies. Among them were his right-hand man Zeng Qinghong, tipped to enter the Central Committee, and Shanghai Mayor Huang Ju, thought to be in line for the job of party organization chief. Jiang, who has favored officials from his own power base of Shanghai, has been criticized for neglecting a famous dictum: "We should select cadres from all over the country, not just from one region." Both Mao and Deng had made it a pillar of their statecraft.


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