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How Much Longer Can Hu Jintao Survive?

In the spring of 2005, China’s political situation appears delicate and complicated. Since the Two Conferences (the National People’s Congress and the Political Consultative Conference), a series of events such as Zhao Ziyang’s death, the Anti-Secession Law and China’s anti-Japanese campaign have had a big impact on Hu Jintao, the new leader in Zhongnanhai. Before mid-April, the government initiated and manipulated an anti-Japanese movement. With its tacit consent, it then spread to the entire country. On April 17, however, Hu Jintao told the Foreign Ministry and the military to stop their encouragement, support and instigation of this anti-Japanese sentiment. At the same time, under Hu’s orders, the Party Central Propaganda Ministry instructed the People’s Daily, Xinhua News Agency, Guangming Daily and other Party propaganda media to restrain their reporting on the anti-Japanese movement. Hu Jintao also asked the Ministry of Public Security police to intimidate any anti-Japanese demonstrators. Yet the spontaneous anti-Japanese movement continues to evolve on its own, and activists have formed networks to call for all “patriots” to gather in Tiananmen Square on the May 4th anniversary to express “patriotic appeals.”

On the morning of April 21, 2005, in order to gain insight into the current situation in Beijing, the author, an editor for Democratic China, visited Mr. Lu Nan (pseudonym, for security reasons), a retired senior communist official in Beijing.

Ren Bumei: How are you, Mr. Lu? Have you read the editorial article in today’s People’s Daily titled, “Without Stability, We Cannot Do Anything?” The article says, “In the past, most factors that destabilize a nation come from within. Nowadays, however, more and more such factors come from outside. Struggles between ethnic groups, conflicts among different countries and western countries’ manipulation behind the scenes have caused civil unrest or even internal conflict in some countries. …We are now facing a changing and complex world. We must remain calm and ready for potential problems and conflicts, including external interference. Right now, China’s internal stability and unity are the highest priority.”

This editorial appears to aim at the current anti-Japanese movement. But it may not be limited only to this issue. Before the editorial was published, Xinhua News Agency published a commentator’s article, “Stay Focused on Economic Development.” This article mentioned a CCP Politburo meeting on April 15, emphasizing that the Party must strengthen its control of society and internal unity. On April 17, People’s Daily published an editorial, “From Developing a Harmonious Society to Stabilizing the Country.” On April 21, Xinhuanet published a commentary, “Self-imposing the Law on Everything; Maintaining Social Order.” On the same day, Guangming Daily also published a commentary, “Cherish Current Good Times.” The Public Security Ministry also issued bans on all kinds of rallies and demonstrations. These reactions from the government are very unusual in recent years. I would like to hear your opinion on these issues.

Lu Nan: I would like to learn about some of the news and comments on the Internet first. Can you tell me something about these? I still don’t know how to get on the Internet. Even if I could, here in China some websites are not accessible.

Ren Bumei: Let me read some comments on the People’s Daily editorial, “Without Stability, We Cannot Do Anything.” Now I am opening up the Xinhuanet website, the official website for the Xinhua News Agency. In its public BBS, one person says, “Still talking about stability!” This may be targeting Hu Jintao’s “harmony” theory.

Another one says, “Stability under totalitarianism and deceit won’t last. Suppress, and keep heavily suppressing people! Be corrupt, and keep boldly corrupting! Rob, and keep shamelessly robbing people! Only doing so, can China restart its clock and have a chance to be born again.”

Some people wrote sarcastically, “Without stability, we can do nothing, not even corruption.”

Another says, “If the old China were stable, there wouldn’t be a New China.”

And another, “When the communists were fighting their wars, they never talked about stability, why?”

And another, “History tells us, the People’s Daily propaganda should be interpreted the opposite way. When it yelled hysterically ‘the Cultural Revolution is good, very good,’ it was the time when everyone in China was tired of the Cultural Revolution. Now that the People’s Daily is yelling ‘Stability,’ it means that we are facing the most unstable times.”

And another, “The government is too old to see things clearly; they can’t tell black from white; they’re forgetting who their parents are and who gives them power. If they keep this up, their downfall is only a matter of time.”

Even the Web surfers for Xinhuanet make such bold comments. It looks like people are very disappointed with Hu Jintao because they have finally realized that Hu’s “harmonious society” means exactly the same thing as “Stability outweighs everything.”

Lu Nan: Indeed, People’s Daily should be interpreted in the opposite way of what it actually says. The current situation is indeed not stable. The anti-Japanese demonstrations are one aspect, but they are superficial. The real destabilizing factor is within the Party. This is Hu’s biggest worry. He said, “Internal stability and unity are the highest priority.” I agree with the comment you made last time: Hu Jintao plans to use Jiang Zemin’s own tactics to deal with Jiang Zemin, manage problems within the Party and resolve conflicts from society. He did not want to learn from Deng Xiaoping or Mao Zedong. It’s hard to say if the old tactics can work or not. Why isn’t the Party stable? It’s Hu’s position that’s not stable. The less stable his position is, the more he wants to learn from Jiang Zemin. But the more he copies Jiang Zemin to overweigh everything with “stability,” the less stable his position becomes. Times have changed. There are so many social problems. Many people can’t wait for him. The old way won’t work anymore. Jiang Zemin wanted stability, because he feared another June 4th (1989 Tiananmen Incident). At the time he promoted the theory, it indeed overweighed everything in the Party. He has his own foundation. He enjoyed Deng Xiaoping’s support. Now if you keep talking about stability, who supports you? Your supporters are those who benefit from the current policy. But many of the beneficiaries are loyal to Jiang Zemin. If you give his people job security, where do you put the people who are loyal to you? If you don’t and you instead affect them, how do you keep status quo? I think that Hu may lose his job. Without a secure position and without new strategies, he will lose others’ confidence. Who are his enemies? They are “3, 5 and 8,” meaning: Wen Jiabao, No. 3 in the Politburo Standing Committee; Zeng Qinghong, the No. 5 person; and the Military (in Chinese slang the military is called “No. 8.”). Sooner or later, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao will have conflicts. Why? These two persons are departing from each other further and further. Wen is becoming increasingly more popular than Hu. They are bound to have clashes. Historically, this type of conflict is inevitable. At the 2005 New Year’s Eve Gala, we already sensed the conflict. Jealousy also leads to conflict. Zeng Qinghong is in charge of Party Organization and Personnel and he also plays a role in propaganda. He has the backing of the Jiang Zemin faction. Now he wants to take advantage of the Hu-Wen conflict. This man will be Hu’s enemy, a tough enemy. Zeng has political ambitions. He is capable of overthrowing Hu. Regarding the military, Hu has no foundation in the military. The military learned a hard lesson in 1989. They won’t let you order them to shoot people again. But the possibility still exists. So many people are visiting the central government to file complaints and to demonstrate. From what Hu is doing right now, he will for sure crack down on people. Then, the conflict will arise. The military is likely to be against him. The recent People’s Daily’s editorial and the Public Security Ministry’s ban on public demonstrations are evidence that Hu is nervous. His main fear is not of an outside threat. He fears different opinions within the Party. He fears that someone will take advantage of the movement and stage a coup.

Ren Bumei: Your words remind me of some other indicators. The Anti-Secession Law appears to have intensified the conflict within the Party. If the Anti-Secession Law is Hu’s idea, then he is looking for his next foothold. However, international media ridiculed this legislation as soon as it came out. There must be a hot debate within the Party hierarchy. Some colleagues are not convinced that this is the right move. So, I think Hu may have been put on the defensive. That’s why he can’t wait to invite Lien Chan (Chairman of the Kuomintung) to the mainland. Hu is now trying hard to prove that the Anti-Secession Law did not damage the China-Taiwan relationship.

Lu Nan: The meeting between Lien Chan and Hu Jintao will be a chance for Hu to score points. This is like Lien Chan serving as Hu’s personal bodyguard. Or, in your buzzwords, Lien is “reading Hu’s script.” The Anti-Secession Law has caused the EU to impose a weapon embargo. As a result, I think some military and Party officials might say that Hu screwed things up. Lien Chan’s visit to Beijing may not be a good thing for everyone. Someone may think differently. Hu has to convince those with different opinions. The hardliners may be against it. Because the negotiation between the Communists and Nationalists will isolate Taiwan President Chen Shuibien, consequently, it will also isolate the war hawks in China as well. Before Jiang Zemin retired, he was hawkish on Taiwan. He set up a trap for Hu. This trap also represents the military’s position. Now the media has gone all out promoting stability and it looks like Hu is indeed in danger. He can’t control the people, nor can he control the Party. With the recent wife-murder case [1], they lost credibility in the media. Reporters all want to do something. Why? People can’t wait any longer. The society is so dark. Many still stick to the old ways. How can this work? I wish Hu Jintao could do something good for China during his tenure. He’s only got this one chance. If he keeps Jiang Zemin’s old strategy of running the country, people will eventually be fed up and throw him out. Back in the 1990s, Deng Xiaoping passed his words to Jiang Zemin, “Whoever opposes reform will have to step down.” Guess what? Hu is facing the same scenario now. Now Deng Xiaoping is dead. But if Hu Jintao keeps doing the same thing, he will likely be forced out. China has to change. Hu has no credibility if he keeps to the old way. If he opposes change, then he has to go. What kind of support does he enjoy with the Standing Committee? What support does he have in the military? Among the people? Reform is the only way for him to gain support. If he is not in a hurry to move forward, then, he will have to step down. What stability? I don’t think he can have that. What makes him think he can enjoy stability?

Ren Bumei: Jiang Zemin has not been seen in public for a long time, so this is not a good sign for Hu. Therefore, Hu doesn’t dare to make any moves. His power in the military, personnel and propaganda is not that strong. People who remain hopeful of Hu are guessing that he is waiting for something.

Lu Nan: I am telling you, he doesn’t have much time left. I know the man. He is not waiting. He is just like that. He’s never received Western-style education, hasn’t had much experience on the big stage. Most of his career has been in the backward West China. He understands some of Mao Zedong’s theory. But his vision is probably even narrower than Jiang Zemin’s. On the other hand, he wants to wait, but can he expect the people to wait also? Now when the people are so angry, you use the old tactics of police control. It’s just not going to work. When Jiang Zemin played with anti-U.S. sentiment, students really believed him, and obeyed his orders. Now that the students are excited about the anti-Japan movement, they may not be that obedient. If you tell the students not to go too far attacking Japan, they will likely go even further. Yes, you can instigate the angry youth and the nationalist sentiment. But these things are like Pandora’s box. They do not just oppose Japan. They also oppose government corruption. If you crack down on the anti-Japan movement, they may respond by expanding their target to include the government. I suspect that the government won’t be able to suppress this sentiment. If they manage to maintain peace this year on May 4th, it will come out the next May 4th. One day, things will explode. Then, everything is over.

Lu Nan: You can send my words to Hu Jintao: If he doesn’t implement reform and especially political reform, he will be forced out sooner or later. Even if he survives till the 17th National Party Conference, he won’t last till the 18th Conference.


[1] A woman was reported missing by her family. When the police found a woman’s body, they believed the husband had murdered her and forced him to confess. After he spent eleven years in prison and was tortured to disability, the wife came forward still alive. The publicity shocked the country. See page 36 for more detail.