Chairman Hu, This is Your Life

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 10/06/2007 04:19:00 PM
It's been five years since Hu Jintao assumed the mantle of General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. As the table to the right depicts, things have changed greatly under the reign of Hu Jintao. Remarkably enough, the world still knows relatively little about such an important figure on the world stage. Just Hu is the man behind the great hair, and what does he have in store for China and the rest of the world?

The Financial Times Weekend has a long profile on Hu Jintao that comes just before the Party faithful convene for the 17th Congress, where it is expected that Hu Jintao will be given another five-year term as General Secretary. It's well worth reading as it throws in more tidbits about his ascent to power. Here are some particularly interesting passages. First, here is one on how Hu keeps everyone guessing with a left-right policy mix:

Hu has kept everyone guessing since then. One Chinese commentator compared his policy pronouncements to a duck walking with one foot pointed to the left, and the other to the right, maintaining an ungainly ideological balance which looks unstable from a distance. China itself has struggled with the same balancing act, between a market economy and a one-party state, for the past three decades.

Since 2002, Hu the “reformer” has allowed the privatisation of large sections of the Chinese economy and the listing of state companies overseas. As head of the party central school in Beijing, he backed debate and study of democracy and encouraged the development of the internet. As a result, Chinese individuals and companies are freer than ever to travel overseas, buy homes and cars and do business. Despite the sensitivity of religion, Hu even held an international conference to promote Buddhism in 2006.

And yet the same Hu has presided over a significant tightening of the media, the jailing of journalists and a concerted campaign against “neo-liberalism” in economic policy-making and “spiritual pollution” on the internet. Large parts of the economy have been sealed off from foreign control as “pillar industries” and entrepreneurs have been attacked for stealing “state assets”. To the horror of many in China, Hu praised Stalinist North Korea in an internal speech early in his first term. And while promoting Buddhism, China has continued to pillory the Dalai Lama.

And, of course, there's the age old question of, really, Hu is this man leading China? To me and many others, he seems to be an anodyne, self-effacing, and even bland character with no strong central personality. In other, words, he's a cookie-cutter bureaucrat made to fit the Chinese mold. Clean cut and inoffensive in person, Hu hardly stands out:

Ding Xueliang, who is based in Beijing for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says foreign views of Hu have been too easily framed by the fact that he grew up in a radical time, with no overseas experience, making him “a kind of Chernenko” – a symbol of an unworldy, Communist party apparatchik, with no distinctive political personality.

Ding says this underestimates how Hu himself has been inevitably shaped by the times. “Hu has some strongly held views, but he is a practical person. China today is so completely integrated into the outside world – and the outside world is capitalist. If he wants to develop his country he has to make his way in a global capitalist system. Hu has no other choice.”

Of course, there's no doubting the many challenges that Hu faces, especially the widely noted phenomenon of entrenched political-economic Party elites:
Few global leaders face challenges of the dimensions that Hu does, of governing a vast, fractious nation which is compressing into a few decades the industrial revolution that took a century in countries such as the US and the UK, with none of the pressure valves that a democratic system provides. Chinese pride binds the nation together, but so does another, largely unspoken, fragile compact: that if you play by the party’s rules, then you and your family can get rich.
Speaking of which, Granite Studio alerted me to another article in TIME on Hu Jintao that's well worth reading. It's also a mini-biography that describes the many challenges facing Hu. Plus, it adds more color to the quarrel between Hu's faction and a Shanghai-based faction featuring Jiang Zemin loyalists and children of the Party faithful who comprise the political-economic elite:
Hu does not have everything his way. Cheng Li, a China scholar and professor of government at Hamilton College, identifies two party factions, which he calls the populists, led by Hu and his allies, and the élitists, made up of so-called princelings--children of top officials--and supporters of former President Jiang Zemin. Many in the latter camp have close ties to Shanghai, China's commercial capital. While both groups share the goal of keeping the party (and themselves) in power, Li argues that they represent "two starkly different sociopolitical and geographical constituencies," with the élitists speaking for the interests of China's most economically advanced coastal regions. Li notes that a recent government study showed that the vast majority of the country's 3,000 richest entrepreneurs are children of high-ranking officials who use their connections to gain favorable business deals. Mindful that anger at corruption was the original motive for the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, Hu's government has promoted a nationwide antigraft campaign that has brought down a slew of senior officials, including Chen Liangyu, party secretary of Shanghai, who is under arrest and reportedly awaiting sentencing for his alleged role in a scheme that channeled enormous sums in pension funds into private investment. Hu and his close ally Premier Wen Jiabao have also sought to shift growth from the coast to the interior and tackle China's dreadful environmental problems.