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Deepening rifts in the Chinese CP

By Eva Cheng, Green Left Weekly, #292, 28 September 1997

Jiang Zemin appears to be the most powerful man in China today. He the state, the ruling Communist Party and the army. At the 15th CP congress, he managed to remove from power political rivals Qiao Shi (from the Politburo Standing Committee), General Yang Baibing (from the Politburo) and generals Liu Huaqing and Zhang Zhen (senior vice-chairpersons of the Central Military Commission).

Jiang was given his supreme positions shortly after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre by the late Deng Xiaoping. Starting his career in the central bureaucracy only in the 1980s, Jiang commanded little authority. This was particularly the case with his position as CMC chair, in view of his complete lack of combat experience.

Soon after Deng died in February, Jiang ordered all key military and party units to study post-Deng politics and submit to him their study reports. In the CP tradition, Jiang was trying to solicit or confirm allegiance.

Many units did not cooperate, praising Deng only. In a clear act of defiance, a number did not even mention Jiang. Qiao Shi, who also the parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), and Li Ruihuan, fourth in seniority in the Politburo Standing Committee, were the most noticeable examples in this category.

Also maintaining intriguing silences were military heavyweights such as Zhang Zhen and Liu Huaqing.

Quickly hoisting the Jiang flag were Guangdong and Shenyang military commanders, but not their counterparts in the remaining five military regions.

Punishing disobedience

Jiang had limited ability to punish all the disobedient commanders quickly. But many of those who had not expressed loyalty lost power after the recent congress.

Li Ruihuan, however, retains his position in the Standing Committee. Generals Liu and Zhang, 81 and 83 respectively, are not too old to stay in power in China but have been squeezed out on that pretext.

In a manoeuvre to gather regional support, former state president Yang Shangkun and Politburo member General Yang Baibing, half brothers and of the so-called Yang Clan, openly engaged in networking tours in the southern provinces early this year, shortly before Deng's death.

Both Yangs were removed from real power just before the 14th party congress five years ago, on Deng's order. But they have not given up reclaiming their power base.

Jiang, 71, has put more trusted aides into power. In the new Politburo Standing Committee, Li Ruihuan, 63, was his key foe. Wei Jianxing, 61, chairperson of the Disciplinary Commission and widely seen as being close to Qiao, did not win Jiang's trust either.

However, of the remaining members in the seven-seat committee, Li Peng (69), Zhu Rongji (69), Hu Jintao (55) and Li Lanqing (65) have expressed loyalty to Jiang. Hu and Wei are new to the committee.

Of the remaining 15 Politburo members, including two alternates, Jiang seemed to have secured the loyalty of Ding Guangen, 68, of party propaganda; Wu Bangguo, 56, former Shanghai party secretary and now in charge of the state-sector portfolio; Wu Guanzheng, 59, party secretary of Shandong province since April; Luo Gan, 62, secretary-general of the State Council; Jia Qinglin, 57, Beijing party secretary; Huang Ju, 59, Shanghai party secretary; Wen Jiabao, 55, secretariat member of the Central Committee (CC); alternate member Zeng Qinghong, 58, director of the CC's general office; General Chi Haotian, 68, and General Zhang Wannian, 69. The latter two, both CMC vice-chairpersons, are Jiang's crucial support in the military.

Those appearing to take a neutral stance are: Li Changchun, 53, party secretary of Henan province; Jiang Chunyun, 67, vice-premier in charge of agriculture; Qian Qichen, 69, vice-premier in charge of foreign affairs; Xie Fei, 65, party secretary of Guangdong province; and alternate member Wu Yi, 58, minister of foreign trade and the only female in the Politburo. Other Politburo members of doubtful loyalty towards Jiang are Tian Jiyun, 68, NPC vice-chairperson, and Li Tieying, 54, minister of the Commission for Restructuring the Economy.

Shanghai faction

There appears to be a consolidation of the so-called Shanghai faction. More in the Politburo, the 193-member CC and among 151 CC alternates were originally from Shanghai or have established a power base there. Jiang was Shanghai's party secretary before entering the central government and has been bringing to Beijing a stream of former colleagues and cadres associated with Shandong province. This has created resentment in other regions.

In 1994, after Jiang had sent dozens of Shanghai-based cadres for intensive training at the Central Party School, Deng Xiaoping relayed the warning that cadres must come from the five lakes and the four seas, meaning diverse backgrounds.

The promotion of Wu Bangguo and Jiang Chunyun to the power centre in 1995 triggered opposition from many regions, especially Guangdong. The pressure was so great that Jiang reportedly denied in an internal party meeting later that year that he was the of a Shanghai faction.

Although Jiang engineered the recent congress's endorsement of including Deng's thoughts as China's guide into the party constitution and quoted him nearly 60 times in his five-hour report, he has not always been his disciple.

Deng's 1992 tour to the south was a clear act of contempt for party rivals who opposed his capitalist reforms. Towards a move as provocative as this, all key party sections were expected to reveal openly where they stood.

Everybody in the CP knew that silence could only be read as disapproval of Deng's policies. Deng even grumbled during the tour about Jiang's lack of enthusiasm for his market reforms.

Even so, Jiang publicly endorsed Deng's southern tour for the first time only after Deng died, saying it marked a new phase of China's socialist development.

However, this is no indication that Jiang holds ideas or visions of his own. Moreover, there were no clear indications either that Jiang's or Deng's political rivals hold ideas different from them.

Interest groups

All factions claim that they support socialism, whatever that means for them. Since Deng resumed power in 1978, no-one in the CP has openly opposed him, though some expressed less enthusiasm than others for his policies. After he died, all factions described his ideas as epoch-making.

No faction openly raised a different flag. None have identifiable visions or strategies to differentiate them from other factions. Faction membership is very fluid, and a matter for speculation.

Such groupings more resemble sectoral interest groups than political factions in the real sense of the word. Their differences often erupt over conjunctional policies which relate mainly to their positions and material interests.

Before Deng's reforms, the main benefit CP members (58 million of them now) derived from their power was privileged access to consumption. Regardless of their factional differences which reflected different power bases, CP members all had a clear incentive to defend the social order that was established after the 1949 revolution.

But since Deng's capitalist transformation of China began, sections of the CP no longer share the same interests, or agree on how best to defend them. They no longer have a common material interest in defending the planned economy. Some sections are doing very well from Deng's changes and have decreasing incentives to defend the pre-1978 order.

These different interests are reflected in the top echelon in Beijing, although, due to the decentralisation of power and the system of revenue raising (officially or otherwise), such differences more often take the form of conflict between the centre and regions.

Signs of opposition

Nevertheless, those who supported the pre-Deng policies have not all given up defending the weakening order. An expression of that is the release in China in 1994 of the book Looking at China with a Third Eye.

Released by the Shansi People's Press, in the name of a German Sinologist, the book opposed the capitalist direction that China was taking, warning in particular of the active volcano presented by 800 million peasants, many of whom are being displaced from their land and could swell the ranks of another turmoil like 1989.

Jiang Zemin reportedly expressed a high regard for the book, praising in particular the section on agriculture.

Conservative ideologue Deng Liqun, with clear backing from forces within the CP, having released a continuous stream of thinly veiled warnings in opposition to the turn to the market in recent years, released a 20,000-character manifesto of more open criticism days after Deng Xiaoping died.

Guangdong, which has gone furthest of all provinces, has continually been criticised for failing to carry out central orders. The balance of power in Beijing, already delicate, is further destabilised by the fact that Guangdong will soon lose its only representative in the CC.

Its party secretary, Xie Fei, was to retire from the Politburo last month, and Guangdong had lobbied hard for a new representative in the top body. But none of the other candidates are, in Beijing's view, of sufficient seniority. Xie Fei is staying on in the Politburo as a temporary measure. CP sources reportedly revealed that Guangdong delegates received poor votes in the CC election.