Publication: China Brief Volume: 2 Issue: 2

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam

Premier Zhu Rongji, China’s best-known reformer, is on the defensive in the factional infighting that is tipped to worsen in the run-up to the 16th Communist Party Congress scheduled for late this year. In part because of arguments over the retire-at-70 rule, Zhu’s relationship with President Jiang Zemin and National People’s Congress Chairman Li Peng has been frosty since mid-2001.

Many of Zhu’s supporters were unhappy about the fact that the hard-charging economic czar was kept away from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Shanghai last October. Instead, Jiang, who was APEC’s host in Shanghai, brought along his trusted aide Zeng Qinghong, a party functionary with no government portfolios. Zhu, 73, who has reiterated his desire to retire at the end of his five-year term in March 2002, has been focusing much of his energy on pushing his protégés for senior positions at the pivotal party congress. However, latest reports from Beijing say the iron-fisted reformer has been meeting with difficulties.

Take the case of Zhu ally, Vice Premier Wen Jiabao, who is the premier’s favorite to succeed himself. Recently, Li–the only cadre responsible for the June 4, 1989 crackdown who is still in power–has in internal meetings raised doubts about Wen’s “trustworthiness.” The 59-year-old Wen was in 1989 a close aide to former Party Chief Zhao Ziyang, who was disgraced soon after the Tiananmen massacre for “conniving at the spread of bourgeois liberalization.” Moreover, Guangdong party secretary Li Changchun, who is President Jiang’s candidate for premier, has been making disparaging remarks about Wen’s lack of high-level provincial experience.

Zhu also wants a big promotion for State Councillor Wu Yi, the only woman to hold a senior post in the party and government. Hence his recent remarks that there should be more female cadres at the top. Like Zhu, however, Wu has become unpopular with Beijing bureaucrats as well as regional officials for the pivotal role she played in speeding up China’s accession to the World Trade Organization.

As of the end of 2001, the Shanghai Faction led by Jiang and Zeng was doing particularly well on the personnel front. Zeng, who is the Head of the party’s Organization Department, has installed a good number of Shanghai Faction affiliates in the course the recent reshuffle of the leaderships of more than twenty provinces and important cities.

According to a Western diplomat, that Zhu is encountering problems in factional slugfests can be seen from the near-desperate strategy he seems to have taken: to dissociate himself from his proteges in the hope that their chances for promotion won’t be affected by being known as members of the Zhu Faction.