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Intelligence: Eyewitness Ambon
From this week's Asiaweek, on sale August 10

August 10, 2000
Web posted at 6:00 p.m. Hong Kong time, 6:00 a.m. EDT

Preparing for the future
Objections Circumvented

Journalist Amy Chew, traveling with the Indonesian army, managed to get to ethnically-riven Ambon in the Maluku islands. She reports the city is in ruins, with many buildings burnt to the ground or severely damaged. Troops are on the streets but few civilians are in sight - militia snipers keep them indoors. Ternate in North Maluku, is quiet now and Chew was told the fighting had stopped after the city had turned "white" - the small number of Christians who had lived there have been killed or driven out. According to a local NGO, the Maluku Community Forum, 5,347 Christians and 4,700 Muslims have been killed in the ethnic violence since January 1999, numbers much higher than have been reported. Chew says the Christian and Muslim residents she spoke with in Maluku insist that most of the Muslims involved in the killing do not come from the islands.

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Preparing for the Future
Asiaweek's sources say the agenda for the annual leadership retreat at China's Beidaihe seaside resort this month has five main items. Some you would expect, like preparing for accession to the WTO and reviewing Taiwan strategy. Two others to be discussed are development strategies for western China and stepping-up the anti-corruption drive - the party is set to intensify the campaign later this year. But what might turn out to be the most important topic is the rejuvenation of the country's political leadership. Emerging plans call for the Communist Party's 16th National Congress in late 2002 to observe new retirement-age guidelines. Top national leaders must leave their posts at age 75; vice premiers at 70; ministers, provincial governors and party chiefs at 65. Only those under 70 will be eligible for membership in the party's Central Committee and its Politburo. Of the Politburo's 21 members now, 11 are over 70, including President Jiang, 74, National People's Congress chief Li Peng, 71, Premier Zhu Rongji, 71, Vice Premier Li Lanqing, chief graft buster Wei Jianxing, Defense Minister Chi Haotian, PLA strongman Zhang Wannian, Vice Premier Qian Qichen and party propaganda chief Ding Guangen. Most, if not all, are expected to step down when their party posts' terms end in 2002. According to insiders Jiang may relinquish his jobs as party general secretary and state president, but stay on as head of the Central Military Commission, which would have no age limit and allow him to exercise power "from behind the throne" - which is how Deng Xiaoping did it. To pave the way for the rejuvenation program, the recent rash of high-level promotions in the party, government and military all went to cadres in their 40s and 50s. Also, such leaders-in-waiting as Jiang's strategist and confidant Zeng Qinghong, Shanghai party boss Huang Ju and vice premiers Wen Jiabao and Wu Bangguo have recently made major overseas trips to burnish their credentials and "broaden their minds," as Asiaweek's source puts it.

Objections Circumvented
The ASEAN annual report Sec.-Gen. Rodolfo Severino presented to ministers in Bangkok last month was considered too candid to release to the public. Some members - Vietnam, for one - feared the frankness might harm ASEAN's image. Only after some delegations leaked copies to the press was it officially distributed. Cause for concern? In the 4,000-word document Severino warned that, despite the mild economic recovery, foreign direct investment in Southeast Asia was flagging and the region risks losing out to competitors. Nothing new there, is there?

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