Publication: China Brief Volume: 2 Issue: 23

So far as its main purpose–ensuring a smooth, orderly political succession–is concerned, the 16th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress has spawned as many problems as it has solved. President Jiang Zemin, who was supposed to have handed over the baton at the just-ended conclave, seems as authoritative as ever. And the power base of newly minted party general secretary, Hu Jintao, remains tenuous even as the seeds for a vicious factional struggle between the 59-year-old vice president and powerful Shanghai clique politicians have been sown.

At the end of the Congress on November 14, Jiang underscored the CCP’s success in bringing about “a smooth handover from the old to the new.” However, the First Plenary Session of the new Central Committee held a day later endorsed a new Central Military Commission (CMC) with Jiang still hanging on to the post of chairman. And despite Jiang’s being now just an ordinary party member, he still precedes Hu, who heads the Communist Youth League (CYL) Faction, in terms of both official pecking order and media exposure.

Hu Jintao (born 1942), Wu Bangguo (1941), Wen Jiabao (1942), Jia Qinglin (1940), Zeng Qinghong (1939), Huang Ju (1938), Wu Guanzheng (1938), Li Changchun (1944), Luo Gan (1935).

The nine PSC members plus Wang Lequan (1944), Wang Zhaoguo (1941), Hui Liangyu (1944), Liu Qi (1942), Liu Yunshan (1947), Wu Yi (1938), Zhang Lichang (1939), Zhang Dejiang (1946), Chen Liangyu (1946), Zhou Yongkang (1942), Yu Zhengsheng (1945), He Guoqiang (1943), Guo Boxiong (1942), Cao Gangchuan (1935), Zeng Peiyan (1938), Wang Gang (1942) [alternate member].

That Jiang will remain the de facto No. 1 in the post-16th Congress order is evident in the composition of the nine-man Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), China’s supreme ruling council. Five out of the nine members–Zeng, Wu Bangguo, Huang, Jia and Li–have close personal ties to Jiang. Zeng Qinghong, the president’s alter ego, will head up party affairs, including personnel and ideology. Wu Bangguo is slated to become National People’s Congress chairman next March. Huang Ju is the likely new first vice premier. Jia Qinglin is a candidate for chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference [CPPCC]. Li Changchun may become vice premier in charge of agriculture.

The four non-Jiang Faction PSC members are Vice President Hu, Wen Jiabao, Wu Guanzheng and Luo Gan. Vice Premier Wen is in line to succeed his mentor Zhu Rongji as prime minister next March. Shandong party boss Wu Guanzheng has assumed the critical post of head of the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection–the top anti-graft organ. Wu, who has the reputation of an economic reformer, is deemed as leaning toward the vice president and his faction. Wu and Hu–both Qinghua University graduates–have been good friends since the mid-1980s, when they were regional cadres in the central and western provinces. They both benefited from the patronage of late party chief and former CYL boss Hu Yaobang. Wu, however, also enjoys reasonably good ties with Zeng, a fellow Jiangxi Province native. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether Hu can form some form of an alliance with Wen and Wu as a counterweight against the Shanghai clique. Luo, who will retain his law and order portfolio, is a Li Peng protégé. An East-German trained bureaucrat, he will very likely align himself with the Jiang/Shanghai faction now that Li Peng’s influence is waning.

The Jiang faction’s predominance is even more lopsided in the full Politburo. Among the ruling council of twenty-four full and one alternate members, fifteen are deemed Jiang affiliates, that is, leaning toward the Shanghai faction. Among them:

  • Shanghai officials, either former or present–including Zeng Qinghong, Wu Bangguo, Huang Ju, new Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu, Jiangsu party secretary Hui Liangyu and Zhejiang party boss Zhang Dejiang
  • regional officials who are also Jiang associates–including Jia Qinglin, new Beijing party boss Liu Qi and Li Changchun
  • State Council ministers such as Zeng Peiyan
  • party functionaries such as new Organization Department head He Guoqiang, new Propaganda Department head Liu Yunshan and Central Committee General Office director Wang Gang
  • military officers Generals Guo Boxiong and Cao Gangchuan.

The non-Jiang affiliated Politburo members:

  • Zhu Rongji protégés Wen Jiabao and Wu Yi
  • Li Ruihuan protégé Zhang Lichang
  • Li Peng protégés Luo Gan and Zhou Yongkang.

Members who can be considered Hu cronies or leaning toward him include Wu Guanzheng, Xinjiang party secretary Wang Lequan, and United Front Department chief Wang Zhaoguo (once Hu’s superior at the CYL). Hebei party boss Yu Zhengsheng has no obvious factional characteristics.

Hu’s forces seem weak and scattered in contrast to Jiang’s–or Zeng’s, Zeng who will one day take over from Jiang as the head of the Shanghai Faction. Political analysts said Hu and his CYL Faction had actually done reasonably well in the Central Committee ballots the last day of the Congress: Some 20-odd CYL Faction affiliates became full Central Committee members.

These include a number of party and government department heads such as Justice Minister Zhang Fusen, Personnel Minister Zhang Xuezhong, United Front Work vice chief Liu Yandong, Xinhua agency chief Tian Congming and central banker Yan Haiwang. Among the Hu-affiliated Central Committee members are also regional cadres such as Fujian Party Secretary Song Defu, Henan Governor Li Keqiang, Gansu Governor Lu Hao and Yunnan Governor Xu Rongkai.

However, despite heavy speculation earlier this year, CYL Faction rising stars such as Fujian’s Song and Henan’s Li failed to gain seats on either the Politburo or the party Secretariat. Beijing analysts said most of these Hu associates would not be able to make it to these top-level bodies until the 17th Congress in late 2007.

The result of this imbalance in Hu’s disfavor is that should a dispute take place between Hu on the one hand, and the half-retired Jiang or another Shanghai Faction heavyweight on the other, it is likely that Hu will be out-gunned. Post-16th Congress factional intrigue will likely be centered on Hu and Zeng, Jiang’s wily top aide. Zeng, who has taken over Hu’s old portfolio of party affairs, has assumed full control over the Secretariat, the party’s nerve center.

Indeed, a big fight has already developed between Hu and Zeng over Zeng’s efforts to keep Hu affiliates out of the Secretariat. While it is a party tradition that the CCDI chief should have a slot on the secretariat, Zeng together with Jiang only allowed Wu Guanzheng’s deputy, He Yong, to sit on it. Zeng has also frustrated attempts by Hu to install key protege Ling Jihua, who is head of the Hu Jintao Office, as director of the Central Committee General Office. Analysts say it is likely Zeng can with the help of his crony, the new organization chief He Guoqiang, maintain a tight grip over personnel matters.

Beijing is heavy with speculation that Jiang–and other members of the Shanghai Faction–wants Zeng to take over as party chief at the 17th Party Congress. This is despite the fact that Zeng, while also being considered a Fourth Generation leader, is three years older than Hu. Sources close to the Shanghai Faction said the first indication of Zeng’s prominence would come at the NPC next March. While Hu is in line to take over the state presidency from Jiang, Zeng is the frontrunner for the vice presidency. Given that the vice presidency is a ceremonial post, however, Hu and the CYL Faction are concentrating their resources on preventing Zeng from securing the vice chairmanship of the CMC.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Jiang was half-hearted about adopting the so-called Deng Xiaoping model of succession, a reference to Deng holding on to the CMC slot after quitting his other party and government jobs in the early 1980s. Beijing insiders said that Jiang, who did not want the world to think he was but mimicking Deng, could have given up the CMC post last week if his preconditions had been met.

One key condition was that if the CMC chairmanship were to go to Hu, the latter had to agree to Zeng becoming first vice chairman. It is understood that a showdown between Jiang and Hu took place moments before the Congress opened on November 8–and the vice president surprised his septuagenarian boss with the vehemence of his opposition to Zeng’s assuming the military post. In view of the dissatisfactory outcome of the 16th Congress, more Byzantine intrigue could take place, which could distract the new Politburo from concentrating on pressing socioeconomic problems such as worsening unemployment and corruption.

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.