Publication: China Brief Volume: 3 Issue: 5

Major personnel decisions to be made at the ongoing First Session of the 10th National People’s Congress (NPC) will have fateful consequences for the factional balance within the Chinese Communist Party. Outgoing President Jiang Zemin will have his staying power confirmed through gaining yet another term as Chairman of the State Central Military Commission (SCMC). The clout of key Jiang protege Zeng Qinghong–and the inchoate Zeng Qinghong Faction–has also been boosted.

Although CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao, who heads his own Communist Youth League Faction, is feeling threatened, he has mapped out formidable strategies to protect his flank and augment his powerbase. The struggle between president-designate Hu on the one hand, and Jiang and Zeng on the other, could dominate high level politics up to the 17th Congress in 2007.

An examination of the extraordinary gamesmanship of Jiang and Zeng is in order. While the seventy-six-year-old Jiang must vacate his position as state president–in favor of Hu–at the end of the parliamentary session on March 18, he will remain SCMC chief for up to five years. And since Jiang already had his tenure as Party Central Military Commission (PCMC) chairman extended at last November’s 16th CCP Congress, the party elder’s control over defense and national security affairs remains solid. And in the age-old tradition of “the gun in control of the party,” Jiang will remain the number-one arbiter of Chinese politics for the foreseeable future.

Events at the NPC also confirm Jiang’s intention to build up Zeng so that he may one day become the head of the Shanghai Faction. The unpopular former Shanghai deputy party secretary, who barely made it to the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) last November, will be made state vice-president at the end of the legislative session.

It is true that Jiang will have to yield substantial powers to Hu along with yielding the presidency to the sixty-year-old Fourth Generation leader. According to party and state tradition, Hu as state president will soon take over the leadership of three top CCP organs dealing with foreign and security issues: the Leading Group on Foreign Affairs, Leading Group on Taiwan Affairs, and the Leading Group on National Security.

However, according to the terms of a secret understanding of the new Politburo, Jiang has to be consulted on major matters of state at least until the 17th CCP Congress. More significantly, Zeng, sixty-three, is primed to take the number-two slot at the three leading groups. Unlike Hu, who has been kept out of the loop by Jiang the past several years, Zeng has benefited from his closeness to the patriarch and used that relationship to form a circle of cronies in the military and diplomatic establishments.

In fact, Zeng has at least as much experience as Hu in foreign affairs. The Jiang alter ego played a big role in helping the outgoing president formulate the so-called Great Power Diplomacy–particularly in cobbling together the beginnings of a “constructive, strategic partnership” with the United States during the Clinton administration. And in the early 1990s Zeng represented Jiang in a series of “secret meetings” with emissaries sent to Hong Kong and Zhuhai by former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui.

However, Zeng’s biggest challenge to Hu springs from the former’s tight control over the CCP Secretariat–deemed the party’s nerve center–and in particular, the Organization Department, which controls high level party and government appointments. Zeng also heads the Central Party School, the training ground for senior officials. In the past year or so, Jiang’s top protege has stitched together a Zeng Qinghong Faction. It is an offshoot of the Jiang Zemin or Shanghai Faction whose members profess strong personal loyalty to the ambitious PSC stalwart.

Blue ribbon members of the Zeng Faction who work within the party and central government apparatus include the head of the Organization Department, He Guoqiang; the head of the Propaganda Department, Liu Yunshan; the director of the CCP General Office, Wang Gang; Vice Premier-designate, Hui Liangyu; and the Minister of Public Security, Zhou Yongkang (who is also Zeng’s brother-in-law). The following regional leaders are deemed close to Zeng: Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu; Guangdong party chief Zhang Dejiang and Jiangxi party chief Meng Jianzhu.

Sources close to the Shanghai Faction say that Zeng, with the help of the Organization Department’s He, is already grooming a new corps of potential Central Committee members to be elevated at the 17th Congress. This shortlist of candidates includes a number of 5th Generation cadres from the Shanghai or Zeng Faction. This move will ensure that, even if Zeng cannot displace Hu as party General Secretary, he will be in a position to control a good proportion of future Politburo and Central Committee members who will be promoted in 2007.

To the surprise of many Hu Jintao watchers, however, the usually self-effacing party chief has mounted a ferocious counterattack on the personnel front. In the three months or so following the 16th Congress, several Fourth and Fifth Generation Communist Youth League members have been promoted to high-profile regional posts. Foremost among them are the new party chiefs of Henan and Jiangsu, Li Keqiang and Li Yuanchao, Guangdong governor Huang Huahua as well as the mayors of Beijing and Shanghai, Meng Xuenong and Han Zheng, respectively.

Moreover, it is clear that Hu has profited from the overweening ways of Jiang and Zeng. Take for example, the potential power pact between Hu and Premier-designate Wen Jiabao, no small part of which will be anchored on their common distrust of–if not enmity toward–the Shanghai Faction. Like Hu, Wen is not a member of Jiang Zemin’s inner circle. And the sixty-year-old Wen has resented the fact that Jiang and Zeng have installed a considerable number of Shanghai Faction affiliates in his cabinet.

According to tradition, Wen, as premier-in-waiting, should have had quite a big say in cabinet appointments. Yet it is Jiang and Zeng who have had a dominant influence in apportioning cabinet jobs, including the post of State Council secretary-general. Because the holder of this post is deemed the premier’s chief aide and troubleshooter, he is usually a protege of the head of government. For example, former Premier Li Peng’s secretary-general was his right-hand man, Luo Gan. And the same is true for outgoing Premier Zhu Rongji’s secretary-general, Wang Zhongyu. However, the likely new State Council secretary-general, former deputy secretary-general of the Shanghai municipal government Hua Jianmin, is much closer to Jiang and Zeng than to Wen.

Zeng’s bid to extend his tentacles to the crucial security apparatus has also aroused controversy–and given Hu an opening. After engineering the appointment of crony Zhou Yangkang as police chief, Zeng has moved to expand the latter’s portfolio within the vast security and law-and-order establishment. This is despite the fact that, for the past decade or so, this area has been under the control of another PSC member, Luo Gan.

According to a source close to the security departments, for the past five years Luo has established quite a firm grip on at least four units: the paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP), the Ministry of Public Security or police; the Ministry of State Security (MSS); and the customs authority. Since the 16th CCP Congress, however, Zhou has, with the help of Zeng, pretty much wrested control of the police and customs from Luo. And there is even speculation in Beijing that Zhou may one day displace Luo as secretary of the party’s Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the nation’s highest organ on internal security and judicial matters.

The security source said that Luo, who seems an odd man out in the PSC because of the declining political fortune of his patron, Li Peng, had been left with no choice but to link his fate to Hu’s. And with Luo’s help the party general secretary had been able to build up considerable influence in the MSS and the PAP.

Diplomatic analysts in Beijing said Hu had also made impressive headway in the PLA. The analysts said the party chief had been able to improve personal ties with former CMC vice-chairman General Zhang Wannian, who still commands respect among the large corps of generals from Shandong, a province famous for producing senior generals. General Zhang had reportedly given Hu advice on who among the Fifth-Generation PLA officers the party chief should promote after he had succeeded Jiang as military commission chairman.


Willy Wo-Lap Lam, one of Asia’s best known journalists and authors, is a senior China analyst at CNN’s Asia-Pacific Office in Hong Kong.