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Hu Jintao

Hú Jǐntāo (simplified: 胡锦涛; traditional: 胡錦濤; Wade-Giles Hu Chin-t'ao) (born Dec, 21 1942) became General Secretary of the Communist Party of China on November 15, 2002. He became President of the People's Republic of China on March 15, 2003, following his election by the National People's Congress, thus replacing his predecessor Jiang Zemin.

Hu is by training a hydraulic engineer who graduated from China's prestigious Qinghua University. According to his official biography, he possesses a photographic memory. His career is remarkable for his rapid ascendancy to power, attributed to his moderate views and careful attention not to offend or alienate his older backers. In contrast to the members of the "Shanghai clique", Hu has spent most of his career in China's poorer hinterland rather than in the economically prosperous coastal regions. That his career was in these regions also contributed to the fact that he was little known by Western analysts before his accession to power.

He is the first party chief to have joined the Communist Party after the Revolution over 50 years ago. As Party Secretary he was responsible for both a political crackdown in early 1989, leading to the deaths of a number Tibetan activists, as well as some liberalization in cultural activities. In his 50s, Hu was the youngest member of the then seven-member Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China by far.

Since taking over as Party General Secretary in the Sixteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Hu Jintao has appeared to have an more egalitarian style than his predecessor, and there has been no obvious signs that Jiang Zemin is still exercising power. He has focused on sectors of the Chinese population which have been left behind by the economic reform, and has taken a number of high profile trips to the poorer areas of China with the stated goal of understanding these areas better. The major early crisis of Hu's leadership has been dealing with the outbreak of SARS. Following strong criticism of China by the World Health Organization and others for covering up and responding slowly to the crisis, he sacked several party and government officials, including the health minister and the mayor of Beijing, and took steps to increase the transparency of China's reporting to international health organizations.

Another test of Hu's leadership was Beijing's low key response to protests in Hong Kong in 2003 against Article 23. In an unprecedented move, the implementing legislation was withdrawn after popular protests on July 1, 2003, while at the same time Hu gave a public show of support to Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa after gauging public mood in Hong Kong. Many observers see the Central Government's handling of the situation to be characteristic of Hu's quiet style, and unlike Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa, Hu remains popular figure in Hong Kong.

Although Jiang Zemin, 76, stepped down from the powerful Politburo Standing Committee to make way for a younger "fourth generation" of leadership led by Hu, there was speculation that Jiang Zemin would retain significant power because Hu is not associated with Jiang's "Shanghai clique", to which six out of the nine new members of the all-powerful Standing Committee are linked. The 22-member Politburo is elected by the Party's central committee. Real power in Communist China lies with this committee, which works as a kind of inner cabinet and groups together the country's most influential leaders. At the 2002 16th Party Congress, the Standing Committee was expanded to include nine members. In addition, Jiang was reelected to the post of Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Communist Party of China, a post from which Deng Xiaoping was able to wield power from behind the scenes as "paramount leader."

China has a history of fallen heirs-apparent, which many observers believe explains the caution with which outside observers have long associated him. The PRC has been plagued with succession problems, with elder cadres, such as Deng Xiaoping, wielding behind the scenes power through younger protégés. Deng was able to anoint three party secretaries, and was instrumental in the ouster of two of them, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. His third and final selection, Jiang Zemin, won Deng's continued backing and was the only party secretary in Communist Chinese history to voluntarily leave his post when his term ended. Even Deng himself fell from grace as party general secretary (not the top communist post during that time) in the 1950s due this less than enthusiatic support for Maoist economic policies.

In recent months Hu and new Standing Committee member Zeng Qinghong have appeared together often in public interacting amicably, probably to quell rumors of any rivalry. Zeng, regarded as Jiang's right hand man and key ally, controls the party's dossiers, being responsible for the hiring and firing of top cadres. Some initially regarded Zeng, and not Hu, as the main powerbroker on the Standing Committee.

However, there have been signs of Hu's growing strength, surprising many observers. In addition to promotion of many Hu allies to key party and state posts (including the September 2003 promotion of a Hu ally to head the All-China Federation of Trade Unions), either by appointment, or by election by lower organs in an institutional hierarchy, there has generally been progressively less mention of Jiang's theory of the three representations and more mention of the xiaokang society (roughly translated as a middle class society) in state, party, and media statements.

Many observers have concluded that Hu has distinguishing himself from his predecessor in both domestic and foreign policy. In domestic politics, he is seen to want more openness to the public on governmental functions, meetings. Recently, China's news agency published many Politburo Standing Committee meeting details. He also cancelled many money wastful events that are traditionally seen as communist extravaganzas, such as the lavish send-off and welcoming-back ceremony of Chinese leaders when visiting foreign lands. Just recently, Hu has ordered all cadres from the five major power functions to stop going to the Beidaihe retreat for their annual summer meeting which, before was commonly seen as a gathering of ruling elites, both current and elder cadres, to decide China's destiny. In Foreign Policy, he has differed from his predecessor by actively engaging in the current North Korean crisis.

More Recently, Hu Jintao has been in the national highlights on many major occasions, including observing military excercises and chanting remarks that would normally be viewed as slogans for top military leader. He also talked about "intra-party" democracy that was a large focus for many observers, domestically and internationally. During the 3rd Plenum of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, He represented the entire politburo and submitted a report to the Central Committee, a first for a Chinese leader. This to many, symbolizes his gradual move toward "intra-party" democracy, and most importantly his strategy of using the committee to tilt the power balance from the politburo toward his favor. Most significantly, he represented the party, state, and military to oversee the successful launch of the Shenzhou 5 manned spacecraft. It was surprising that Jiang Zemin did not attend such a highly anticipated event, even though the Shenzhou program was considered one of Jiang's legacies. Many suspect Jiang's influence may be waning within the party.

Jiang Zemin (left) with Hu Jintao (right)

Preceded by:
Jiang Zemin
General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Followed by: