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Politics - 2006-09-30 - China's former leader is not forgotten, and not quite gone

ON LEAVING the last of his posts in 2004, Jiang Zemin, China's former president, could point to two big achievements. First, he shepherded China through 15 years of rapid economic growth without sacrificing stability, and for that he must share the plaudits with many colleagues. But the credit for his second achievement, the first orderly transfer of power in China's Communist era, goes to him alone. Or it would, were it not for the awkward theory, held by many analysts, that he was more or less forced to quit.

Now, after keeping fairly quiet for the past two years, Mr Jiang has again stepped into the spotlight with a pair of new publications. One work is a travelogue documenting the many official overseas trips he took. The other is a three-volume set of his “Selected Works”, which went on sale on August 10th, a week before his 80th birthday. Its release puts him in the company of Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong as a leader deemed worthy of the honour. State media urged careful study of the opus and carried gushing, if improbable, reports of frenzied queues at bookstores as far afield as Tibet.

All the fuss could simply be a way for the new president, Hu Jintao, to heap praise on the old man as he prods him deeper into retirement. However Mr Jiang's re-appearance comes at a time when machinations over the next leadership change are just getting under way. China is due to hold its 17th Communist Party Congress late next year. Mr Hu would not be expected to step down until the following one, in 2012, but the 2007 congress is where the party will begin the work of anointing a successor. If Mr Jiang has any hopes of helping his political allies, and hence of prolonging his own influence, this would be the time to re-assert himself. But if he also wishes to be thought of as China's first modern leader to retire gracefully, he needs to tread carefully.

Source: The Economist

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