Publication: China Brief Volume: 1 Issue: 5

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam

They are never reported in the official New China News Agency. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or government spokesmen would not even confirm that the so-called Beidaihe conferences had ever been held. Yet every summer since the 1980s, senior leaders from Beijing and the regions have gathered at a choice strip of sand at the North China resort of Beidaihe for rounds of informal discussions on matters of state.

This year, the Beidaihe meetings, which ended in late August, had added significance because one top item on the agenda concerned personnel arrangements in the run-up to the 16th CCP congress next year. Much of the party, government and military leadership will be changed at this pivotal congress–and that is why preparations have begun as early as last spring. Latest reports from Beijing said that the Beidaihe conferences failed to produce a consensus on the leadership lineup to be endorsed by the 16th congress. Senior officials, however, agreed to uphold party unity–and the principle that major factions should be represented in the new Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).

President Jiang Zemin, who recently skirmished openly with the party’s leftists, or remnant Maoists, made gains insofar as that "Jiang Theory" was accepted as the guiding principle of the party. The 75-year-old veteran reiterated the need to speed up the transition of power from the third generation of leaders, which he currently heads, to the fourth. And it is likely that after Jiang’s retirement from the post of Party General Secretary at the 16th congress, his Shanghai Faction may no longer remain the predominant CCP clique.

A source close to the Beidaihe conferences said that Jiang, Premier Zhu Rongji and National People’s Congress chairman Li Peng spent a lot of their time giving big pushes to their proteges. Two fourth-generation leaders charged with personnel arrangements for the 16th congress–Vice President and PSC member Hu Jintao, and head of the CCP’s Organization Department Zeng Qinghong–also tried to improve the chances of their associates. "The shortlists of candidates to be inducted to the Politburo and the PSC at the 16th congress won’t be finalized until the middle of next year," the source said.


Regardless, rough contours of the leadership line-up have become apparent. The following cadres, who all enjoy high-level patronage, are considered likely candidates for elevation to the PSC. Apart from Zeng, they include Vice Premiers Wen Jiabao and Wu Bangguo, Politburo member Luo Gan, Guangdong party boss Li Changchun and State Councillor and foreign trade specialist Wu Yi. The chances of Zeng, Wen and Luo making the PSC are considered particularly good. Amongst these high-fliers, Zeng, Wu Bangguo and Li are considered Jiang cronies. Luo is a protege of Li Peng, while Wen and Wu Yi, the only woman among the lot, are deemed to have Zhu’s support.

Beidaihe participants also agreed to hasten the speed of transition of power from the third to the fourth generation. In principle, cadres who have reached the age of 70 by the 16th congress should be stepping down. This means that apart from Hu, only one other PSC incumbent, Li Ruihuan, will be staying for one more term in the supreme body. Li, who is generally considered a reformer and a Jiang foe, will likely take over the NPC position from Li Peng.

It is understood that the likelihood that the three powerful septuagenarians–Jiang, Zhu and Li–will remain in official capacities after the 16th congress have lessened.

At Beidaihe, Jiang made it clear that he thought the fourth-generation cadres could finally pass muster. "After undergoing rigorous training, the fourth generation is now experienced enough to handle complex challenges both at home and abroad," Jiang reportedly said. He also reiterated his readiness, if such was the will of the party, to relinquish all his official posts in the coming year or so. Analysts said, however, that given the fact that many generals had written petitions asking for Jiang to remain chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) for one more term, it was still possible for the president to use the pretext of "heeding the people’s will" to stay on as military chief.


Competition at the level of the Politburo was also ferocious. Owing to retirement and for various other reasons, about half of the twenty-two incumbent Politburo members will step down at the 16th congress. Diplomatic analysts say that at the Politburo level, Jiang is backing at least two associates. One of them is Education Minister Chen Zhili, his old subordinate from Shanghai, who may be promoted party boss of the metropolis. The other is likely to be a new face from outside the central bureaucracy: The names of Jiangsu party boss Hui Liangyu and Beijing Mayor Liu Qi have been mentioned. Hui has distinguished himself for popularizing ideological education based on Jiang Theory, while Liu has gain credit for successfully organizing Beijing’s Olympic bid.

Premier Zhu is believed to be lobbying for Politburo membership for two key lieutenants, People’s Bank of China Governor Dai Xianglong and State Council Secretary General Wang Zhongyu. Other powerful PSC members, including Li Peng and Hu Jintao, will also be proffering support to trusted associates. Hu, for example, is throwing his support behind two regional cadres: Fujian party secretary Song Defu and Henan Governor Li Keqiang. Like Hu, Song and Li Keqiang first earned their spurs while serving in the Communist Youth League, which is generally considered to have reformist inclinations.

One or two cadres from the western provinces are expected to be inducted to the Politburo to reflect the importance Beijing is putting on the "go west" development program.

Informed sources say that the post-16th congress Politburo will be dominated by four PSC members: Hu Jintao, as party general secretary; Wen Jiabao, likely to succeed Zhu as premier; Zeng Qinghong, who will be in charge of party affairs; and current head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Li Ruihuan, who will move to the NPC. Of the four, only Zeng is deemed a Jiang supporter. Hu and Wen, both of whom had served in Gansu province, do not hail from the Shanghai Faction. Hu had actually opposed the advancement of Zeng. And given the enmity between Li Ruihuan and Jiang, it is possible that Li would ally himself with Hu and Wen.


Analysts said that Jiang hoped, irrespective of personnel arrangements, that his influence in the party and country would persist well into the next decade if his Jiang Theory could become party dogma. It is therefore no small triumph for Jiang that his colleagues at Beidaihe agreed to amend the party charter at the 16th congress so as to incorporate the Jiang Theory, particularly his Theory of the Three Representations.

This doctrine is a reference to the fact that the CCP must be representative of the most advanced productivity, the foremost culture and the fundamental interests of the broad masses. This doctrine has formed the basis of Jiang’s surprise decision–announced in his July 1 nationally televised speech–to allow qualified private businessmen to join the CCP. After all, Jiang’s aides have argued, in this information age, it is the "new classes" of businessmen and professionals who can best represent the most advanced culture and production forces.

The doctrine, however, has attracted ferocious criticism from leftists, who have castigated Jiang for abandoning workers and peasants, the CCP’s traditional pillars of support. Open letters circulated by the likes of leftist ideologue Deng Liqun have also slammed Jiang for building a personality cult around himself and for favoring the Shanghai Faction. Analysts said Jiang was able at Beidaihe to make a strong defense of his theory–and to marginalize the leftists, who will unlikely be able to gain even positions as Central Committee members.

In a further effort to discredit the Maoist ideologues, the president also played up the imperative of internal party cohesion. Pointing to the dissolution of the Soviet Communist party ten years ago, Jiang said that cadres should heed late patriarch Deng Xiaoping’s teachings on the subject. This was a reference to Deng’s statements in 1991 and 1992 that if the CCP wanted to avoid Moscow’s fate, it must promote internal stability, particularly that within the party. Jiang also stressed the need to be responsive to people’s needs, which, he said, underpinned his Three Representations Doctrine. "If a [political] party can’t get the support of the masses, it will crumble," he said, again citing the experience of the Soviet party. However, at Beidaihe, Jiang also had to protect his flank against the leftist fusillades–particularly charges against his nurturing a cult of personality. Hence Jiang’s emphasis on passing the baton to the fourth generation–and the stress he put on the principle of "five lakes and four seas," a reference to picking cadres from different factions and backgrounds.

Analysts have said that Jiang might be obliged to share more authority with Hu, including decisionmaking powers on foreign policy, starting from the autumn. So far, Jiang has jealously guarded his authority on diplomatic and military affairs. This is despite the fact that as state vice president and CMC vice chairman, Hu should long ago have been given heavier responsibilities in these fields.

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.