Beijing, Nov. 9 (Reuters): All eyes turned to China’s secretive leadership succession today as delegates at a pivotal Communist Party Congress hailed President Jiang Zemin’s move to embrace the new capitalist elite.
Jiang, also party boss, offered no clear clues in his speech opening the 16th congress yesterday as to who will lead the world’s most populous nation if he and other leaders over 70 retire from their party posts as expected next week.
In the Great Hall of the People, delegates meeting to discuss the speech were tight-lipped on a reshuffle in which Jiang, 76, is expected to hand his top post to Vice-President Hu Jintao, 59, but cling to power by installing allies in key positions.
One delegate from the eastern province of Shandong let slip that the party’s Politburo, made up of the 21 most powerful people in China, was also meeting today, but did not reveal what was on their agenda.
“What personnel changes'” Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu snapped at reporters when pressed on the leadership changes. “There are no personnel changes in Shanghai.”
Chen, counted among Jiang’s proteges, took over the top job in China’s financial centre last month and is now likely to take a place on the Politburo after the congress.
His predecessor, Huang Ju, is also a Jiang ally and tipped for a place on the Politburo Standing Committee — the party’s top decision-making body which now has seven members.
But the leadership change — billed as the first orderly succession in Communist China — is so sensitive that only a tiny elite circle know the final lineup, Chinese sources say.
Those lower down the party ladder can only swap rumours and titbits of information. Ordinary Chinese are left in the dark.
“We can say anything we want,” said Li Liucheng, 44, owner of a news stand on a busy Beijing thoroughfare. “In the end it’s just silly and empty words.
“My first priority is to survive. After that, I’ll start thinking about new leaders,” he said. “We hear Hu Jintao is up next. What can we do even if we object'”
On Thursday, the congress of 2,114 delegates will formally elect a new Central Committee of about 200, which will hold its first meeting the next day and choose a new Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee.
The result is actually set in advance through horse-trading between top leaders anxious to maintain political influence and protect their family interests.
, Chinese sources say.
”Of course we have the utmost confidence in the new leaders because we're going to be the ones choosing them,” said a smirking Cai Dongshi, a senior party official in the southern province of Guangdong.
”I haven't thought about what's to come because we haven't gone into the final process yet,” he said.“We don't even know the candidates yet.”
The uncertainty has made many officials nervous Ä like Xi Jinping, who took over as governor in the eastern province of Zhejiang recently and has an outside chance of joining the Politburo.
”I have just moved to a new place, so it's sensitive and I can't really talk to reporters now,” said the normally outgoing Xi, formerly governor of the eastern province of Fujian.
Jiang has already secured the promotion of at least three key allies to the new Standing Committee, including his main adviser and hatchet man Zeng Qinghong who stepped down as head of the party's organisation department last month, party sources say.
Jiang will score another victory by having his“Three Represents” theory, sanctioning private entrepreneurs joining the party, written into its constitution next week, they say.
Congress delegates met in small“discussion groups” on Saturday that turned into non-stop praise sessions for Jiang's speech, in which he urged the party to recruit from the private sector and follow the“Three Represents”.
Corporate chieftains, including Zhang Ruimin, head of Chinese appliance maker Haier, joined Chinese leaders in reciting the party's new mantra Ä that it represents advanced productive forces, advanced culture and the majority of the Chinese people.
”After I heard it, I realised Jiang's report is a turning point and marks a new era,” said Guangdong governor Lu Ruihua.
Hu Jintao, number five in the party, said the speech was ”good guidance for building a well-off society and boosting socialist modernisation”, and praised Jiang's record in office.
Premer Zhu Rongji, 74, said China's achievements under Jiang ”will be written into the annals of history in the course of revitalising the Chinese nation”.
Jiang broke with tradition by using his speech to review his 13 years in office, instead of just the five since the last congress, in what some analysts saw as a hint he would retire despite rumours earlier this year he wanted to hang on.
But the symbolism meant little to many ordinary Chinese.
”The decisions are made by the party, not the people, so we don't follow it so closely,” said technician Luo Fangqian, 48, as he prepared for an afternoon stroll with his teenage daughter.
”But the country is like a family. The leaders are the parents and we are the children. We just want them to put food in our mouths and to make us prosperous.”