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Friday, 15 November, 2002, 12:54 GMT
Jiang keeps grip on power
Hu Jintao with Jiang Zemin
Hu Jintao will be closely watched by Jiang Zemin's camp

It has been hailed as a historic moment in the development of Communist Party rule in China, the smooth transition from one generation to the next, the re-invigoration of China's leadership with young blood.

The moment of revelation certainly had its drama.


This is less of a political transition than a political take-over by Jiang Zemin's faction

For half-an-hour the hundreds of Chinese and foreign journalists packed inside the Great Hall of the People waited on tenterhooks.

Then suddenly, from behind a large screen, out they all marched, led by China's new number one, Hu Jintao, grinning from ear to ear.

And following behind him was a surprise - not six men but eight. The Party's all-powerful Politburo standing committee had been expanded.

Looking down the line of new men it rapidly became clear why - outgoing Party chief Jiang Zemin had succeeded in getting his allies and cronies promoted.

Jiang's influence

Of the nine men now on China's most powerful political body, six are close allies of Mr Jiang.

And then came the news that Jiang Zemin himself had been re-appointed to head the powerful Central Military Commission, the body that directs China's 2.5 million-strong armed forces.

Hu Jintao appears on giant TV screen
Mr Hu could struggle to make his mark
This is less of a political transition than a political take-over by Jiang Zemin's faction.

Where does all this leave China's new leader Hu Jintao? The immediate answer is it leaves him looking very lonely.

As he sits down to hold his first standing committee meeting Hu Jintao will see the faces of potential rivals in every direction. And as he attempts to stamp his authority on the new body he will know that many of his colleagues will be reporting directly back to the supposedly retired Jiang Zemin.

On day-to-day matters Mr Jiang is likely to stay out. But on big policy issues his influence will still be strongly felt.

Perhaps that is not so much of a problem, some might say. After all in certain areas, like foreign affairs, the new leadership is woefully short of experience. Perhaps it is a good thing to have an elder figure in the background as a guiding hand.

Challenges ahead


The new leadership will face enormous challenges

But in other ways this "Jiangist" take-over could be deeply de-stabilising for the Communist Party, and for China.

For the past decade the party leadership has stayed together by carefully balancing the power of different factions within the party.

The leadership has always reflected the different groups: hard-liners, moderates, reformers, conservatives. Now that delicate balance has been upset, and that - in turn - could upset the unity of the party as a whole.

In the next few years the Party is going to need to maintain its unity more than ever.

The new leadership will face enormous challenges: how to deal with ballooning unemployment, a banking system on the verge of collapse, massive official corruption, a yawning wealth gap between China's cities and its countryside.

Internal party factionalism, a weak party leader and a retired leader who continues to meddle from behind the scenes could all make it much more difficult for the new leadership to deal with those challenges.


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