Leaked us cable sheds light on Hu faction
After the downfall of Chen Liangyu in 2006, President Hu Jintao offered the key job of Shanghai party boss to several of his close allies, but most were reluctant to take the hot seat, a leaked US cable says.
Shanghai has been an important stepping stone for the top leadership, and in some circles the fall of grace of Chen was put down to political infighting in the party's uppermost echelons. Chen, jailed for 18 years in 2008 for taking 2.39 million yuan in bribes and for abuse of power, was widely considered a protege of former president Jiang Zemin. It has been speculated that there has been rivalry for influence between Jiang and Hu.
Eventually, the Shanghai job went to Xi Jinping, who was later promoted to vice-president of the state after only seven months in Shanghai, and is now the front runner to succeed Hu as China's next president, in 2013.
The diplomatic cable, released by WikiLeaks, alleged that one of Hu's allies, Liu Yandong, who was at the time head of the United Front Work Department, was willing to fill the position but failed to secure it because of animosity among the rank-and-file within the Shanghai government. More than 50 other Shanghai officials were implicated in the Chen scandal, in which billions of yuan in social pension funds were embezzled or misappropriated.
The cable, citing a Shanghai-based government researcher and a businessman allegedly close to Li Yuanchao - another close ally of Hu's - claimed that the president had offered the job of Shanghai party secretary to several people, including: Liu; Li, who was Jiangsu party secretary at that time; Li Keqiang , who was then Liaoning party secretary and is now a vice-premier; and He Guoqiang, who was the party's Organisation Department chief then.
Xi, Li and He are all now members of the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, the Chinese leadership's highest decision-making body, which also includes Hu.
The US cable, dated January 10, 2007, allegedly originated from the US consulate in Shanghai. The South China Morning Post has opted not to name sources cited in the cable.
Xi, a princeling, got the Shanghai job in March 2007 with the support of some party elders. The cable said that Hu, who had an image as a conservative politician, was not very fond of princelings - sons and daughters of senior officials - but he found that working with them was part of 'the cost of doing business' and could accord him certain benefits.
Hu, according to the US cable, considered giving the job to He, partly to appease Jiang and partly to vacate the Organisation Department post - in charge of the Communist Party's personnel - to make way for Hu's ally Li Yuanchao. Li is now head of the powerful post, and is a Politburo member.
However, all except Liu refused the job, as Shanghai was in a mess.
The cable said that Chen had criticised Liu in an internal document and described her as 'a big mouth', sowing a bad impression of her among Shanghai officials, who barred her from getting his job.
'There are people who take matters we discuss within our party to Hong Kong,' Chen allegedly wrote in the document, although not naming Liu explicitly. 'They add oil and vinegar and start rumours, and slander those who criticise them. That is behaving like a hoodlum.'
The cable cited a source as saying the document had 'effectively poisoned the well for Liu by outing her as an individual who aired Shanghai's political dirty laundry to the media'. It added that Liu would have been 'a lame duck' in the Shanghai government had she secured the job.
Xi also initially declined the position, the cable claimed, as he had realised he would be bound for Beijing soon.
The cable said Hu protected the municipality's mayor Han Zheng from being investigated for corruption - though he was very close to Chen - because he came from the Communist Youth League, the president's power base.
The two sources allegedly told the United States consulate that Hu had planned to move both Li Yuanchao and Li Keqiang to the Politburo, the party's top brass, and was considering 'helicoptering' them to the Politburo Standing Committee in late 2006, the second year after Hu gained both military and party powers from his predecessor Jiang.
The cable said Hu had been planning steps to move Li Keqiang. 'Li Keqiang was ... rumoured to be moving to Beijing - not because he was particularly talented, but because he was particularly close to Hu.'