Sep 20, 2004

Taiwan: China uses Taiwan as political Tool

Policy on Taiwan is often influenced by power struggles and there is therefore a need to accurately analyze the internal Affairs of China
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The 16th session of the fourth plenum of the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has started. The issue of whether or not Jiang Zemin (???) will step down as chairman of the Central Military Commission and other matters related to high positions within the party are not items on the agenda, but the internal power struggles occurring behind closed doors in China are always of considerable interest to the outside world.

Recently, the media in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as the New York Times, picked up on a July 12 article that appeared in the People's Daily. The article said reform in China had reached a critical stage in its development and a fundamental problem was emerging. Signs of differences between party figures and President Hu Jintao (???) and Premier Wen Jiabao (???) started becoming apparent during a meeting in Beidaihe with Zeng Qinghong (???) and other supporters of Jiang.

On Aug. 23, during the party's 100th anniversary celebrations for former leader Deng Xiaoping (???), Hu Jintao pointed out that Deng had abolished the system of life tenure in leading party and government posts some time ago.

There was also the case of the different versions of a photograph of Hu shaking hands with Deng, one showing Jiang Zemin standing between them, and the other with Jiang missing. The early conclusion of the military exercises on Dongshan Island also led to clashes between Jiang and Hu.

Policy on Taiwan is often influenced by power struggles and there is therefore a need to accurately analyze the internal affairs of China to avoid errors of judgement.

With single-party communist regimes such as China and the former Soviet Union, the handing over and succession of power is conducted in a completely different way to Western democracies, with those looking in from the outside often at a loss as to what is going on. For this reason the outside world generally has to rely on press reports supplied by the Communist Party.

In the past, we have had to rely on the Chinese media to act as the mouthpiece of the party, and from clues such as the importance accorded individuals in major ceremonies, meetings and events, the amount of exposure they receive, any words that make it into print and names and photos that are published. On occasions different factions will test the winds by using influential foreign newspapers, or ones that they have good relations with, to gauge what is happening in power struggles within the upper echelons.

The main items on this session's agenda are the economy and the party's hold on power. However, with the 78-year-old Jiang retaining power over the military, the radically different leadership styles of Hu and Jiang, and the belief that the CCP currently has two centers, there are naturally many questions regarding internal power struggles whenever there is a major conference or meeting.

In 1989, during the 13th session of the fourth plenum, Jiang moved up from Shanghai to take the post of General Secretary of the Central Committee. Deng Xiaoping resigned from the Politburo in 1987, left his position of chairman of the military commission in November 1989, and the central military commission in the following year. Therefore Jiang, if he is to follow the precedent set by Deng, should step down from his position as chairman of the military commission either in this session of the fourth plenum, or at the beginning of next year.

It is true that the high levels of the CCP put a premium on political stability, but one could ask what Jiang's position as chairman of the military commission actually has to do with political stability. There are many different takes on this. Some believe that Jiang will hold the post in the short term to relieve the pressure of military affairs from Hu's shoulders, thereby facilitating political stability. Another way of looking at this, however, is to say that his retention of the position indicates a reluctance to completely hand over the reins of power for the moment. Reading between the lines, some people believe that Jiang is still unsure of Hu and may possibly choose another as his successor, just as Deng did when he held back from relinquishing the position of head of the military to Hu Yaobang (???) or Zhao Ziyang (???), instead waiting until Jiang Zemin was ready.

In my view, Jiang is no Deng and will not be able to maintain control of power from the sidelines in the capacity of retired party elder. What's more, both he and those close to him will be concerned that, without the protection of a high position, their children and associates may fall foul of Hu's anti-corruption drive as soon as Jiang hands power over. Also, Hu Jintao is no Hu Yaobang, and has held his own for a decade in the politburo without slipping up. He is unlikely to be overly anxious about losing to Jiang after only having been in his position for less than two years. Time, after all, is on the side of Hu and Wen.

Therefore, if there really is a power struggle going on between Hu and Jiang, it is concerned with those affiliated with them vying for power rather than a fundamental difference between the two men.

The most important thing for the Taiwan side to take note of is the gradual democratization in China, concomitant with increasing numbers of people going online -- according to statistics, roughly 90 million people in China have access to the Internet -- and the increase in sensational media reports, especially by papers such as the Global Times.

In the event that there are serious internal problems in China in the future, the authorities may well take a harder line with Taiwan to deflect the attention of the media, both within China and abroad. This has been true since 1950: With every military foray abroad and every internal problem or change in power, the high echelons in China have always done the same.

Therefore, if we want to analyze what is happening on the other side of the Strait, and the power struggles that are occurring there, we have to avoid letting the Taiwan question become a way for China to let off steam over its internal struggles. It is far more important to handle cross-strait relations skillfully than to be affected by what is happening on the other side.

Source: TaiPei Times