China's Jiang names vice premiers in show of power

March 18, 1995|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- Solidifying his hold on power, President Jiang Zemin put finishing touches yesterday on a leadership team designed to withstand the death of 90-year-old Deng Xiaoping.

Despite a mild rebuff from the national parliament, Mr. Jiang named two new vice premiers, demonstrating that he is now running the country without the help of Mr. Deng, who is believed to be so ill that he is unable to read documents.

"For all intents and purposes, we are in the post-Deng era," said WillyWo-Lap Lam, a Hong Kong-based political commentator and author of a new book on China's leadership. "Jiang and the others are quite confident about running China."

That confidence has been demonstrated by the leadership having bargained hard with U.S. trade negotiators over a long-running trade dispute, and by Mr. Jiang tinkering with his country's policies toward Taiwan.

Mr. Jiang has also successfully replaced seven of China's 27 governors with officials largely of his own choosing and brought in allies to key positions in the Beijing central bureaucracy.

His allies now control the palace guard in the leadership compound next to the Forbidden City and key positions in the propaganda apparatus.

More obvious has been his success in smothering a personality cult of Mr. Deng, with articles praising the ailing patriarch now rarely appearing in newspapers. Mr. Jiang himself has taken over as symbolic patriarch, last month appearing for the first time on Chinese New Year's to greet the nation.

But as yesterday's events proved, China's Jiang era may not be as smooth as the 69-year-old president and Communist Party general secretary might hope.

While not exactly a slap in the face, the National People's Congress gave only a lukewarm reception to Mr. Jiang's choices for vice premier. The congress' 2,752 deputies used their secret ballots to send a strong signal that they are dissatisfied with the two -- and possibly with Mr. Jiang as well.

The delegates gave vice premier candidate Jiang Chunyun only 64 percent of their support, one of the weakest endorsements of a candidate for high office since the National People's Congress was reconstituted in the late 1970s.

Delegates said that at 65, Mr. Jiang (no relation to President Jiang) was too old and that he had done only a mediocre job in his previous job as Communist Party chief of Shandong province.

Not only has the province gained a reputation for corruption, but the Shandong governor had to rush back home during the congress to deal with falling cotton production, a problem caused by peasant dissatisfaction with agricultural conditions -- an irony given the fact that Mr. Jiang was being promoted to head agriculture.

But parliament offered more support for a close ally of President Jiang, Wu Bangguo. Mr. Wu, like President Jiang a former party secretary of Shanghai, was up for election to vice premier in charge of one of China's stickiest economic problems: its aging, money-losing state enterprises.

Mr. Wu won 87 percent of the votes, which still represented an unusual amount of opposition in a system where most votes are unanimous. It was not, however, the revolt predicted by some observers, rather proving that in key votes, Mr. Jiang can have his way.

Since being elevated to general secretary of the Communist Party in 1989 after the massacre of anti-government protesters, he has devoted himself to currying favor with the army and central bureaucracy.

Yesterday's elections now give him allies in sensitive economic posts.

An editor with the conservative magazine Strategy and Development said President Jiang has been able to put together a relatively stable team because the party is afraid that internal power struggles could sink it.

"It's not that people really respect or like Jiang Zemin," the editor said. "But they don't see an alternative. As long as things are relatively stable, I can't seriously see him facing a major challenge."

Several domestic analysts also discounted talk of a serious rift between the top three people in the government -- Mr. Jiang, Premier Li Peng and Vice Premier Zhu Rongji. An economist close to Mr. Zhu said the three are not close but have a viable working relationship.

Moreover, Mr. Zhu and Mr. Li both have serious weaknesses that would preclude an independent bid for power.

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