Beijing, Nov. 8: In a year of scandals and corruption charges at the commanding heights of the Communist Party, a retired party chief that some had written off as a spent force has thrust himself back into China’s most important political decisions and emerged as a dominant figure shaping the future leadership.
The resurgence of Jiang Zemin, the 86-year-old former leader, is all the more striking because he was said last year to be near death. But over recent months, Jiang, who left office a decade ago, has worked assiduously behind the scenes, voicing frustration with the record of his successor, Hu Jintao, and manoeuvring to have his protégés dominate the party’s incoming ruling group.
He even weighed in on how to deal with Bo Xilai, the populist political figure who was caught up in a major scandal and was investigated after his wife was accused of murdering a British businessman.
Jiang has also sought to shape policy, party insiders say, by proposing changes to an agenda-setting report presented today at the start of the 18th Party Congress, the week-long meeting that precedes the naming of Hu’s replacement and a new generation of leaders. Jiang and Hu arrived together at the Great Hall of the People, before others in the senior leadership — another sign of Jiang’s influence.
Jiang’s goal, those insiders say, appears to be to put China back on a path towards market-oriented economic policies that he and his allies argue stagnated under a decade of cautious leadership by Hu, a colourless party leader who favoured more traditional socialist programmes and allowed gargantuan state-owned companies to amass greater wealth and influence.
Many see Jiang, who brought China into the World Trade Organisation and rebuilt ties to the US after a breakdown in 1989, as favouring deeper ties to the west and more opportunities for China’s private sector.
Jiang was able to outflank Hu to shape a new line-up for the Politburo Standing Committee, the top decision-making body, which appears to have Jiang allies chosen for five of the projected seven seats, according to party insiders. The most prominent is Xi Jinping, the designated heir to Hu as party chief and President.
“Look at the final seven people and you know who the big winner is: Jiang, or Jiang and Xi,” said an editor at a party media organisation. “The loser is Hu.”