WASHINGTON, Dec. 13--In an unusually frank meeting in mid-October, Chinese President Jiang Zemin strong-armed a key rival into retirement and single-handedly expanded China's top decision-making body from seven to nine members, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.
According to Zong Hairen, pseudonym for the highly-placed author of a landmark book on China's leadership transition, both Jiang and Li Ruihuan--chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and once expected to become chair of the far more powerful National People's Congress--"came well prepared to this Politburo Standing Committee meeting on Oct. 17."
"It was an extremely crucial and important meeting for both Jiang Zemin and Li Ruihuan. Were Li to stay on, it would mean the end of Jiang's influence. On the other hand, Li's retirement would mean his disappearance from China's political stage," Zong wrote to RFA's Mandarin service. "The Politburo Standing Committee had called a meeting with the express purpose of finalizing the personnel makeup" of its successor.
Zong is the pseudonym of the Chinese author of "Disidai" ("The Fourth Generation"), which gives an inside account of China's ongoing transition to a new generation of leaders. His letter--to be broadcast on RFA in three parts, on Friday, Saturday, and Monday--contains new and detailed information about the wheeling and dealing that preceded the 16th Party Congress in November, at which vice president Hu Jintao was tapped to replace Jiang as Party chief.
Li Ruihuan, 68, a former carpenter and mayor of the northern port city of Tianjin, is widely viewed as more politically liberal than Jiang. Preliminary plans called for Li to remain on the Politburo Standing Committee, according to "Disidai."
Jiang "seemed exceptionally high-spirited and confident, since the Central Military Commission and the Politburo had rejected his request to step down as chairman of the Central Military Commission. He headed straight to the main item on the agenda--that it was urgent, necessary, and crucial to hand over power to a new generation of leaders," Zong wrote.
After speaking for 20 minutes, Zong wrote, "Jiang said to Li, Comrade Ruihuan, I know that you feel strongly that we should pass the torch to a younger generation. You and I have worked for Party Central for 13 years.... Comrade [Hu] Jintao is no match for us. He is a newcomer. You have always been supportive of his work. The best support we can give Comrade Jintao is to allow him to perform with his hands untied. Obviously, if you and I are still standing on the stage when Comrade Jintao takes over, he cannot carry out his work freely."
Li Ruihuan interrupted. "I do not crave power," he said, according to Zong. "Nor do I believe in scheming. I do not know how to play power politics. I am in good physical and mental health, and my mind works fairly well, too. Despite all that, I have long prepared to retire. I have been waiting to learn of your view on this and have hoped that we could have a heart-to-heart talk. But to this day you have not initiated a conversation with me, much less a heart-to-heart chat. I think that as the Party Secretary-General you have not done a good job in this regard."
Li prevented Jiang from speaking, and he went on to insist that his job would end "with the expiration of my current term next year. Rumors about me have been circulating since this past summer. Undoubtedly, someone is trying to tarnish my reputation with groundless, vicious gossip; undoubtedly, someone does not want me to carry on. One must know one's own limitations. I cannot hold up the sky all by myself," Li said, according to Zong.
At the same meeting, Jiang proposed expanding the Politburo Standing Committee from seven to nine members. He then asked Hu, already tapped to become Party chief, to comment, Zong wrote.
"By giving the floor to Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin deprived Zhu Rongji and Li Ruihuan of the opportunity to veto. Upon hearing his name called, Hu Jintao seemed surprised, but he collected himself and said yes to the proposal without any hesitation. Neither [Premier] Zhu Rongji nor Li Ruihuan said anything. The personnel makeup of the 16th Politburo Standing Committee was thus decided."
Last month, Zong--whom Chinese authorities have launched a major effort to apprehend--reported that most home-phone conversations in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound where top Chinese leaders live and work have been monitored and recorded.
RFA�s Mandarin service secured exclusive, worldwide broadcast rights in Mandarin to "Disidai," published in English as "China�s New Rulers: The Secret Files," edited by Andrew Nathan and Bruce Gilley. "Disidai" means "Fourth Generation" and refers to China�s emerging leaders. Jiang�s own cohort is known as the third generation, after the late Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by the U.S. Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996 as a private, nonprofit corporation, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.