Thursday, July 7, 2011

China leader’s death report enhances political ambiguity

"According to the Latest reports of some foreign media groups about Jiang Zemin's death from illness are pure gossip" the official Xinhua news agency referred "officially sources" as saying.

Jiang, 84, is in ill health. Three sources with ties to China's leadership told Reuters that he is in intensive care in Beijing at the No. 301 military hospital after anguishing a heart attack.
In the opaque world of Chinese politics, the health of a leader is fodder for rumors about how the balance of power is transferring at the top levels of the government.
Serving President Hu Jintao retires from office from late next year in a sweeping leadership revamp, and the reports about Jiang's health highlight the doubts around this.
Hong Kong's Asia Television disrupted its key anchor on Wednesday evening to declare solemnly that Jiang had died, and go behind with a brief profile. It kept up the news for many hours on a ticker and then said it would air a precise report on Jiang's life late in the evening.
It later postponed the report, and taken out the ticker after failing to get official verification.
On Thursday afternoon, the television station telecasted a statement to apologize to its viewers and Jiang's family.
"Asia Television has taken notice of this afternoon's report from Xinhua and has cancelled last night's report about Mr. Jiang Zemin's death and would like to apologize to our viewers and Mr. Jiang Zemin's family," the statement said.
In the mean time, the Shandong News website ( in northeast China published a black banner with white characters, saying "Our Respectable Comrade Jiang Zemin Is Immortal." The site was no longer accessible on Thursday.
China's oversees ministry spokesman Hong Lei averted many questions about Jiang at a regular news briefing, saying Xinhua had already made a full details and that he had nothing extra to add.
Searches on a well known Chinese micro-blogging site with terms assorting from "Jiang Zemin" to the Yangtze River (Jiang's surname means "river"), are blocked, a sign that China's censors are worried about public debate about his health. Early reports about the death of Chinese leaders are hardly new. In the 1990s, Hong Kong and Japanese media reported many times that supreme leader Deng Xiaoping had died.
Jiang Zemin's passing -- on the surface at least -- would probably have limited shock on the direction of China's politics and economic growth.
He retired long ago, handing over the Communist Party's highest job to Hu in 2002 and his other posts over the next two years. Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao have since led the country on a 10 years-long charge that appeared it developed from an economy the size of Britain to one that has exceeded Japan.
But the view of Jiang's death would add a breeze of doubts to a transition that is broadly considered to hand power from Hu to a new generation led by Xi Jinping, presently vice president. That would happen at the 18th Communist Party Congress likely sometime in the autumn of 2012.
Xi, smeared as Hu's heir obvious at the congress in 2007, was thought acceptable to both the Hu and Jiang camps.
But in China, the death of a older leader can be cause for fret, and even spell crisis.
Hu would no longer have Jiang performing as a counterbalance to his influence over the future make up of the next leadership.
"Next leaders are chosen by old leaders," Zheng Yongnian, professor of Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore. "He's one of the key selectorate. After he died, other current leaders will become more effective."
He could also reconcile scores or take down other competitors with links to Jiang, if essential.
Previous leaders can have considerable clout in China. Deng exercised power as supreme leader in spite of having given up all his posts except the voluntary chairman of the Chinese bridge relationships.
Jiang combined his own grip on power after Deng died in 1997. By the time Jiang retired his last post -- as head of the military commission -- in 2004, he had already loaded the Politburo with his people.
"Front and back, left and right, up and down. No matter where Hu looks, there is a Jiang man," said one source at the time the leadership line-up was declared back in 2002.
In Jiang's case, there are quite some associates still in place in the leadership who might now have cause for concern, should Hu assert himself.
"If he passes away, the situation becomes very fragile," said one source with ties to leadership circles who requested ambiguity given the sensitivity of the subject.
Among the Jiang allies still in senior posts are: Wu Bangguo, parliament chief and the second ranking person in the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee; Jia Qinglin, who heads a parliamentary advisory body and is ranked fourth; and Li Changchun, who oversees propaganda and ideology and is ranked fifth.
How exactly it will play it out, is unclear. With the Party Congress only about 15 months away, Hu's window to further consolidate his grip on power is considerably shorter than Jiang had as he prepared to step down.
(Writing by Brian Rhoads; Additional reporting by Alison Leung in HONG KONG and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING,; Editing by Don Durfee and John Chalmers)


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