Turning a blind eye to U.S. protests
Willy Wo-Lap Lam
(CNN) -- President Jiang Zemin has given this advice to Vice-President Hu Jintao concerning the latter's forthcoming visit to the U.S: "Don't be upset when you see protestors; just turn a blind eye to them."
Jiang is apparently afraid that the relatively inexperienced Hu, 59, may not be able to handle himself well in the face of expected anti-Chinese demonstrations by Falun Gong affiliates, exiled dissidents, and supporters of Tibet and Taiwan independence.
Aides to both Jiang and Hu have told the leaders that while most governments in Europe, which Hu visited last October, would be willing to adopt tough tactics to rein in anti-Chinese protestors, the same could not be said for the administration of President George W. Bush.
Conspiracy theorists among Beijing's America specialists have even asserted that semi-official organizations in the U.S. might provide material and other support to America-based units that are planning anti-Hu rallies.
According to Chinese sources, Jiang's "see no evil, hear no evil" advice to his heir-apparent reflects the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership's low expectations of the much-anticipated diplomatic exercise.
Indeed, in briefings to the media and foreign diplomats, Chinese officials have tried to discourage rosy projections.
These officials have emphasized that Hu's sojourn is part of top-level bilateral exchanges that were agreed upon between Jiang and former president Bill Clinton -- and not much else.
"Beijing's line is that Hu's visit is important mostly for its symbolic value, that both governments are willing to focus on areas of common interest despite their differences," said a Chinese source close to the foreign policy-making apparatus.
"While Hu will reiterate long-standing principles particularly over Taiwan, it is unlikely he will engage in substantive give-and-take with his hosts."
Despite being a member of the supreme Politburo Standing Committee since 1992, Hu is not a member of the party's Leading Group on Foreign Affairs (LGFA) and he has seldom participated in diplomatic decision-making.
And Jiang, who heads the LGFA, does not want to be upstaged by Hu, particularly given the fact that he himself is due to call on Washington in October.
This means that even if Beijing and Washington were close to striking a major deal, it would probably take place during Jiang's U.S. tour.
It is partly for this reason that in official briefings, Chinese diplomats have stressed that Hu is a guest of Vice-President Dick Cheney, thus implying that his visit is to be differentiated from the higher-level presidential summits that Jiang has conducted with a big fanfare with Bush and Clinton.
Diplomatic sources said the only possible breakthrough was that Hu and his hosts might narrow their differences over the issue of weapons proliferation.
Washington has for the past couple of years been pressing Beijing to publish detailed lists of nuclear and other weapons -- as well as military material and equipment -- that Chinese firms cannot export.
However, in light of recent clashes between Beijing and Washington over the latter's growing ties with Taiwan, it is unlikely there would be any meeting of the minds.
For Beijing, the latest irritant on the Taiwan front is the ongoing visit to the U.S. by Taiwan's Deputy Chief of the General Staff Admiral Fei Hung-po to discuss arms procurement.
Despite these negative factors, there are still chances that Hu may take advantage of the global limelight to stake his claim as the "core" of the Fourth Generation leadership.
Sources close to the Hu camp said the vice-president had for the past month been conducting almost daily seminars with leading specialists on the U.S. on what he should do or say on American soil.
Experts advising Hu have included officials from the Foreign Ministry, the Central Party School (CPS), and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Beijing analysts say there is a long CCP tradition for cadres of whatever seniority to consolidate their domestic positions through winning plaudits on the world – and particularly, American – stage.
Despite Jiang's solid grip on the political machinery, he still needs to play up his friendship with American presidents to buttress his standing at home.
The analysts say while Hu is expected to take a tough stance on issues such as Taiwan and Tibet, he may want to display the "liberal persona of socialism" through making relatively progressive remarks on issues including economic and political reform.
For example, liberal professors at the CPS that Hu heads have for the past two years conducted studies on areas including multi-party politics and socialist democratic parties in Western Europe.
Since early this year, a group of theorists from the CPS and other institutions has lobbied for "inner-party democracy," a reference to liberalizing the CCP's Leninist structure.
For example, they have underscored the imperative of checks and balances within the CCP's top echelons.
'Tripartite division of powers'
Traditionally, all powers have been vested with the party committees -- including the Politburo -- at the national and local levels.
What the reformists want is a kind of "tripartite division of powers." This means that decision-making authority should rest with party congresses, which, after all, are responsible for picking the party committees.
And the latter should only be executive organs that implement the decisions of the congresses. Moreover, supervisory and disciplinary units should be independent of -- and not subservient to -- the party committees.
The avant-garde theorists were recently able to have their views published in an internal journal, The Forum for China's Party and Government Cadres.
For the past year, Hu's position as the "core" of the Fourth Generation has been undercut by such Jiang's proteges as Zeng Qinghong, the powerful head of the CCP Organization Department (CCPOD).
For example, Zeng recently succeeded in installing one of his deputies at the CCPOD, Yu Yunyao, a relatively conservative commissar, as a vice-principal at the CPS.
Whether Hu has what it takes to present a more forceful leadership style -- and come up with some sound bites on major matters such as political liberalization -- will be a litmus test of his ability to lead the country toward genuine reform in the rest of the decade.