It's Jiang's turn to lead China -- but for how long?
February 19, 1997
Web posted at: 8:45 p.m. EDT (2045 GMT)
In this story:
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
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.
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
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.
(164K/15 sec. AIFF or WAV sound) - David Shambaugh
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.
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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