| HONG KONG/BEIJING
HONG KONG/BEIJING Nov 11 As China's Communist
Party opened its 18th Congress in Beijing, outgoing President
and party chief Hu Jintao was the first senior leader to enter
the Great Hall of the People, greeted by thunderous applause
from over 2,000 delegates as he walked to his front-row seat.
Hu was followed closely by a man who hasn't held a formal
position of power in China for a decade.
Former president Jiang Zemin, 86, his hair dyed walnut
brown, shook hands with other comrades and smiled as he entered
ahead of the rest of China's core leadership, including Xi
Jinping, the anointed next party general secretary and
The procession unambiguously validated Jiang's position at
the pinnacle of China's politics, and he has worked assiduously
to make sure his influence will be felt throughout the next
leadership, which will be unveiled publicly on Thursday.
"He's still very much the power behind the throne," said
Hong Kong-based China expert Willy Lam, who has written a book
As China undergoes its current leadership transition, Jiang
has emerged as a critical power broker whose behind-the-scenes
influence brings fresh uncertainty, and could hobble the new
ruling elite's attempts to pursue reforms.
Part of the motivation for his deep involvement in China's
imminent leadership transition, party insiders said, is
personal. He wants to make sure his two sons, both of whom are
successful businessmen, are protected at a time of enhanced
scrutiny of the wealth accummlated by the families of the
country's top leadership.
Details of Jiang's backroom dealings also reveal, sources
said, his complicated relationship with Hu. They are not all-out
rivals, but neither are they firm poltical allies.
Earlier this year, Jiang was instrumental in the demotion of
Ling Jihua, one of Hu's closest allies, after reports that
Ling's son was killed in a car crash involving a luxury sports
car in March, sources said.
"Jiang asked Hu whether Ling Jihua was still fit to be
director of the (party Central Committee's) General Office after
the accident," one source told Reuters, referring to the key
role overseeing logistics and liaising with senior leaders.
"Ling Jihua was demoted after that."
Jiang has immersed himself in high level politics with
renewed and surprising vigour this year after several relatively
quiet years since the previous party congress in 2007.
Last year, rumours swirled that he was seriously ill, and a
Hong Kong television station reported that he had died.
In recent months his public appearances have been select but
poignant, including a Johann Strauss musical performance at
Beijing's National theatre in September. Overall, in the past
year, there have been more public Jiang sightings than at any
point since his retirement.
The elevated public profile, party insiders say, mirrors the
clout Jiang wields, or wants to be perceived as wielding, behind
the scenes. The clout became apparent when Beijing was in
upheaval over the scandal surrounding party heavyweight Bo
Jiang was consulted on how to deal with the scandal, which
culminated in Bo being expelled from the party and facing
possible charges of corruption and abuse of power. Bo's wife has
been convicted for the murder of a British businessman.
"Jiang is an adviser (to Hu), a (still) very influential
adviser," a second source with ties to the leadership said.
"Jiang was consulted on how to handle the Bo Xilai case."
He has also been deeply involved in selecting the next
Politburo Standing Committee, the country's supreme
decision-making authority, that will be unveiled after the
Jiang, along with Hu and anointed leader Xi, helped draw up
a seven-member "preferred list" ahead of the once-in-a-decade
leadership transition, three sources with ties to senior party
leaders told Reuters.
"Jiang and other party elders have veto power over standing
committee nominees," one source told Reuters. Two high profile
allies of President Hu -- reformist Guangdong party boss Wang
Yang and Li Yuanchao -- may be passed over.
But sources with leadership ties said Hu and Xi are pushing
for landmark multi-candidate elections for at least the
Politburo -- and possibly the standing committee -- throwing the
"preferred list" into uncertainty.
The outgoing president is often depicted by foreign media as
a rival of Jiang's, pitting Hu's so-called Youth League faction
against Jiang's Shanghai faction. Party insiders told Reuters
that their relationship is more complex than that. One source
likened them to the board chairman and president of a
While Jiang does not meddle in the day-to-day running of the
country, Hu has had to consult him on major political and policy
decisions, sources with leadership ties said.
That arrangement will almost certainly continue under Xi
once, as expected, he takes over as the party's new general
secretary. Xi owes his political rise to Jiang, who marked him
early on as a potential leader. But sources said Xi is also
acceptable to Hu given his ties to Hu's one-time mentor, Hu
Yaobang, and Xi's stature as a "princeling", one of the
privileged offspring of incumbent, retired or late leaders.
Jiang has fought to maintain his political clout for two
main reasons: to avoid any adverse political repercussions for
his family or allies once he finally does pass from the scene,
and to preserve what he sees as his political legacy.
Jiang's eldest son, Jiang Mianheng, is a prominent
businessman with companies in various sectors from microchips to
telecommunications and runs Shanghai Alliance Investment. His
lower profile younger son, Jiang Miankang, is director of a
Shanghai-based urban development research centre.
His Harvard-educated grandson, Alvin Jiang, meanwhile, is a
founder of Chinese private equity firm Boyu Capital, which
received seed money from Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing.
Jiang "will need powerful people to support his family" once
he's gone, said Lam. "Xi will ensure that no one touches his two
Some party insiders believe Jiang is also seeking to protect
his political legacy. He pushed hard for China's WTO accession
in the 1990s, and first opened the door for private businessmen
to join the Communist Party, against strong internal opposition.
Most view his time in office as a period of successful economic
While few believe Jiang has much sympathy for political
reform, some party insiders believe his involvement in selecting
the new standing committee may be a sign that the next
government could be more inclined to push for more aggressive
Sceptics believe that's unlikely to happen quickly. Jiang's
presence, they say, still brings risks for China at a time of
economic slowdown and mounting social discord, the key problems
Xi will inherit.
Xi is considered a cautious reformer, and though Jiang is
his patron, not everyone believes his influence will be helpful
to him going forward.
"When you've got a lot of uncertainties regarding the old
generation of leaders still lurking behind," said Steve Tsang, a
China political specialist at Nottingham University, "then it
becomes that much more difficult, (and takes) a bit longer,
before the new leadership decides whether it can take bold
As long as Jiang is alive, analysts said, Xi had better get
used to his presence. "As long as he is healthy, he won't give
up his influence easily, he'll continue to exert it" said Jin
Zhong, editor in chief of Open Magazine in Hong Kong, which
specialises in China politics.
"This is China's greatest tragedy. Its reliance on dictators
rather than the rule of law and democracy."