China: Shanghai surprise as ruthless President ousts aging rivals

Two of the most powerful men in China have been dumped at the party congress. The announcement was a triumph for President Jiang Zemin, as he bids to establish himself as paramount leader following the death of Deng Xiaoping. Teresa Poole looks at how the man from Shanghai has won out.
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The Independent Online
"It was a unified congress. It was a victorious congress," said Mr Jiang as the military band prepared to strike up the "Internationale" at the closing ceremony of the week-long party meeting.

It had certainly been a victory for the man who will lead China into the 21st century. In the first major political reshuffle since the death of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in February, Mr Jiang managed to get rid of his main rival, Qiao Shi, until now ranked third in the hierarchy. Mr Jiang also forced the retirement of the most senior general, Liu Huaqing.

Yesterday's key event of the 15th Party Congress was the closed-door "election" by the 2,000-odd delegates of a new 193-person Central Committee. In fact, by the time the votes were cast, the number of candidates had already been whittled down to the number of seats on offer.

But this was the result of two days of tense factional manoeuvrings and pre-elections in which Mr Jiang's allies appeared to score the victories they were seeking.

The outcome was that Mr Qiao and General Liu both lost their seats on the Committee. This means that the two men will also be removed from China's supreme political body, the seven-member Standing Committee of the Politburo. That new line-up and the 20-odd member Politburo will be announced this morning, and all eyes will be watching to see whether Mr Jiang has put his proteges in place, many of them from his political power base of Shanghai.

It was 72-year-old Mr Qiao's comprehensive removal from all the key centres of political power which was the most unexpected. "It is a bit of a surprise," said one Western diplomat last night. "But it is a good thing for Mr Jiang, it removes one big problem."

When Mr Jiang in 1992 added the presidency to his positions as party chief and head of the army, many China-watchers still dismissed him as a lightweight who would not stay the course in the post-Deng era.

In the past 18 months Mr Qiao was the one senior figure who failed to pay public lip-service to Mr Jiang as Mr Deng's anointed successor, and relations between the two were said to be increasingly frosty.

The friction became more acute in recent months because Mr Jiang wanted to removed Mr Qiao from his position as chairman of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, in order to replace him with Li Peng, who under the constitution must retire as prime minister next March. That switch may now be on the cards.

The expressions on people's faces yesterday in the Great Hall of the People said it all. A beaming Mr Li posed for photographs as he posted his ballot papers, while a very stiff-faced Mr Qiao squeezed out a very forced smile.

No one expected Mr Qiao to be removed from all his posts, and it marks a very public personal defeat. In the months up to Mr Deng's death, this was the man whom many analysts had described as a likely "kingmaker" for the post-Deng era, a role which yesterday evaporated. The propaganda machine cannot even pretend it is a matter of age; Mr Qiao is only one year older than Mr Jiang.

General Liu, 81, had held the top military position in the hierarchy, and although his age meant retirement from the Standing Committee was likely, he was reluctant to depart. His removal from even the Central Committee is a political humiliation. Mr Jiang, who is head of the armed forces, will now seek to promote his own military allies, possibly to the Standing Committee or at least to the Central Military Commission, the army's ruling body.