Xi Jinping

Jiang 'flexing muscles' via media

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:54pm

Former president Jiang Zemin's recent unusual and frequent public appearances show he still wields considerable power over the transition to a new leadership later this year, analysts say.

It also suggests intense horse-trading among factions as they finalise major personnel and policy issues ahead of the 18th party congress.

Retired leaders traditionally stay out of the limelight, except for politically symbolic events such as National Day. Jiang has made three forays into the public eye in one week, all covered by the media.

Jiang, who retired as party general secretary in late 2002 and president in March 2003, telephoned the city party chief of his hometown, Yangzhou in Jiangsu province, following a mild earthquake.

A local newspaper reported on the exchange on July 23 and it appeared on the website of the People's Daily yesterday, although it was not included in the print edition.

He also sent flowers to the funeral of former propaganda chief Ding Guangen. And on Monday, a history textbook with a preface by Jiang was published. Broadcaster CCTV carried a report on the book during its evening news.

The 85-year-old no longer holds any official position, but analysts say he remains an influential player in the jockeying for power as the next generation of leadership takes shape.

'His recent frequent and prominent appearances, which come during the Beidaihe meetings, are apparently aimed at helping his supporters and cronies get promotion,' said Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a professor of political science at the City University of Hong Kong.

Zhang Lifan, a political-affairs analyst, said Jiang's frequent appearances suggested horse-trading remained intense, and consensus on crucial issues had not yet been reached.

'His message is that I am still here and will be here, at least until the conclusion of the party congress,' said Zhang, formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a leading think tank.

Analysts noted Jiang made a similar gesture ahead of the last party congress in 2007.

His public appearances have grown more frequent this year. In May, Jiang created calligraphy for an airport in his hometown. The same month, a picture appeared on the Twitter account of a Bloomberg reporter showing the former president meeting Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz in Beijing.

Jiang's physical health is heavily scrutinised during such politically sensitive times. Analysts pointed to Jiang's failure to appear at official functions on July 1 last year - to mark the Communist Party's 90th anniversary - fuelling speculations about his well-being. He had previously attended major national events, including the opening of the 2008 Olympic Games and the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic in 2009.

Cheng said Vice-President Xi Jinping, due to take over from Hu Jintao as president, will face a tough challenge in dealing with powerful retired leaders in the future. Cheng suggested that Hu would follow Jiang in exerting his influence in retirement.