Zhu Rongji

New and old guard stage rare show of harmony

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2007, 12:00am

Former political rivals put years of horse-trading and power struggles behind them yesterday as leaders of the third and fourth generations made a rare appearance together at the opening ceremony of the Communist Party's 17th National Congress at the Great Hall of the People.

President Hu Jintao and former president Jiang Zemin sat side by side in the middle of the stage, while former National People's Congress chairman Li Peng , former premier Zhu Rongji , former Central Military Commission deputy chairman Liu Huaqing , party elder Song Ping and former NPC chairman Wan Li mixed with current Politburo Standing Committee and Politburo members in the front row.

The frail elders - Mr Wan and Mr Liu are 91 while Mr Song is 90 - painstakingly sat through Mr Hu's 21/2-hour speech to lend their support to the party and its leadership and to highlight its unity and continuity.

Mr Jiang, famous during his presidency for actions such as taking a nap on stage during the National People's Congress, sat stiller yesterday than during his time at the top.

He looked occasionally to his left and right and glanced at the waitress pouring hot water into his tea, but his applause during breaks in Mr Hu's address was briefer than that of many others in the audience.

Mr Zhu seemed even less enthusiastic. He did not join in the applause on many occasions, particularly when Mr Hu went to great lengths to elaborate on the concept of scientific development, a brainchild of the fourth generation.

But courtesy still dominated, and Mr Hu praised the third-generation leaders at length.

Mr Jiang also shook hands with Mr Hu when he returned to his seat after his speech.

Analysts said Mr Jiang still carries considerable clout over the political lineup after the congress, despite the toppling of Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu .

A conspicuous absentee yesterday was former NPC chairman Qiao Shi , Mr Jiang's political rival in the 1980s. His name had been on the list of presidium members announced previously by state media.

Vice-President Zeng Qinghong was also the centre of attention yesterday as observers tried to find clues as to whether he would remain on the Politburo Standing Committee after the congress. Mr Zeng sat straight and listened to the speech attentively.

When the political ritual was over, Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan promptly went to shake hands with top leaders such as Premier Wen Jiabao .

Another rising star and princeling, Commerce Minister Bo Xilai , also went to the front to shake hands with Mr Zhu and other elders.

Demonstrating his superb public relations skills, Mr Bo stayed on stage until others left and shook hands with almost everybody coming his way.