Subtle Power Struggle; the Shadowboxing between Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao Is Murky, but Could Have Global Implications

Article excerpt

Byline: Melinda Liu

On the surface, the article was unremarkable. The China Youth Daily recently reported that the Sichuan town of Wanyuan had laid on a lavish concert to commemorate a 1934 Red Army battle. Wanyuan is too poor to have a proper stage, but that didn't stop authorities from paying popular pop singer Song Zuying more than $50,000 to sing just four songs in a school auditorium, the paper said. In addition, Wanyuan government offices, schools and businesses reportedly received a "political assignment" to buy $165,000 worth of tickets to help bankroll the event.

What the article didn't say, but many believe, is that Song is a "close friend" of former president Jiang Zemin, 78. In private, he's been known to accompany her singing by playing a Chinese fiddle, or erhu . The China Youth Daily is associated with the Communist Youth League, a stronghold of support for President Hu Jintao, Jiang's younger successor. So its report wasn't just provocative gossip: it's widely perceived as the latest salvo in a thinly veiled power struggle pitting Jiang

against Hu, and Hu's ally, Premier Wen Jiabao.

Neither camp wants to risk a naked power struggle. So the mudslinging has targeted relatives and cronies rather than the leaders themselves. This kind of "power struggle by proxy" has long been played out in China, but its effects are now felt much more widely. When the Communist Party Central Committee meets in a plenary session this week, the struggle could influence China's foreign and economic policy, and by extension that of the United States and Europe, for months.

The key question is whether Jiang will relinquish his last major post at the meeting. He's long been expected to step down as head of the influential Central Military Commission (CMC), allowing Hu, 61, to take over as military chief. Hu became party head in November 2002 and president in March 2003--but without control over the military his clout remains constrained. Now each new leak suggesting Jiang will retire completely is matched by counterrumors saying it's all a ploy. The tactic even has a name--"to retreat in order to advance"--and Jiang has used it before. …