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It's Jiang's turn to lead China -- but for how long?

jiang February 19, 1997
Web posted at: 8:45 p.m. EDT (2045 GMT)

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From Correspondent Andrea Koppel

BEIJING (CNN) -- With the death of Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, his chosen successors are ready and waiting to step in as China's third generation of leaders.

Unofficially, in fact, they already have. For the last few years, when Deng was too weak to govern, these men -- led by Communist Party chief and President Jiang Zemin -- were running the show.

But Deng's death could help expose the factional rivalries behind the government's facade of unity -- differences that could surface dramatically at a major party congress this fall.

These leaders must cope with the expectations of a society of 1.2 billion people with growing economic power, disillusioned with Communist ideology. They also face serious economic and social problems, including dying state industries and a growing gap between rich and poor.

Jiang demonstrates tenacity

At 70, Jiang is like a candidate hot on the campaign trail, a man with the mission of political survival. His propaganda machine has been busy in recent months, analysts say, in the hopes of portraying himself as a leader in the tradition of Deng and Chairman Mao Tse-tung.


"It's very difficult, I think, for Jiang Zemin to aspire to the authority of Deng Xiaoping or Mao Tse-tung," China analyst Willie Wo-Lap Lam said.

"It's difficult because he just is not the kind of charismatic leader which people would associate Deng Xiaoping with."

Jiang's biggest claim to fame so far has been his staying power. He has been Deng's hand-picked successor since 1989, the so-called core of the third generation of leaders and the man with all the top positions, including president and Communist Party general secretary.

But his titles and confident smiles aside, Jiang's future is anything but secure, because unlike Deng and Mao, Jiang has no revolutionary credentials and did not serve in the military, also known as the PLA.

And the military is considered to be the only institution left in China that is strong enough to keep Jiang in office and hold the nation together after Deng.


"If you study the period of time that Jiang has been in power, he has assiduously and meticulously sought the support of several different constituencies within the party, army and state apparatus, and I think has rather successfully co-opted those constituencies and adopted their programs as his own," said David Shambaugh, editor of China Quarterly.

Some analysts say the military will back Jiang because it would rather rule through a civilian and member of the Communist Party, and that Jiang will hold onto power because he's someone everyone can agree on.

icon (164K/15 sec. AIFF or WAV sound) - David Shambaugh

Others reaching for power

Li Peng

Jiang is not alone in his lack of military credentials. Prime Minister Li Peng, 68; parliament Chairman Qiao Shi, 71; and other members of China's collective leadership also lack a military background and solid ties to military leaders.

"They all come out of the party and technocratic backgrounds. Many are engineers," Shambaugh said.

In the 1940s, Mao took peasant unrest and turned it into the Communist revolution. In the 1970s and 1980s, Deng took a stagnant economy and led an economic revolution.

Qiao Shi

Jiang's critics say he has yet to prove he's anything more than just a savvy politician. And while at the moment there appears to be no alternative to Jiang, Chinese history indicates appearances can be deceiving.

The last time a major Communist leader died, in 1976, Chairman Mao Tse-tung left Hua Guofang in charge. Most observers at the time thought Hua had the total support of other communist leaders, but just two years later he was ousted from power by none other than Deng Xiaoping.


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