Announcement Hints at Jiang’s Waning Influence

Chinese state media reported Wednesday that former president and Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin, who emerged as a key power broker during China’s leadership transition last year, asked that his name be moved down the party’s order of seniority. From the South China Morning Post’s Choi Chi-yuk:

Jiang asked the party’s new Central Committee to put his name among those of other retired leaders, and behind incumbent party and state leaders, after the party’s national congress in November, Xinhua reported.

It praised Jiang’s move as “reflecting the noble character and sterling integrity and open-mindedness of a Communist”.

At the funeral of General Yang Baibing on Monday, Jiang’s name appeared after those of members of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee and state leaders for the first time since his full retirement in 2004.

Jiang had previously ranked second only to President Hu Jintao at official occasions following his retirement.

The South China Morning Post had reported Jiang’s tumble in the pecking order on Tuesday, before state media claimed the change came at the former leader’s own request. Still, one Beijing-based political analyst told the South China Morning Post on Thursday that Jiang “had most likely been forced to take a step back.” Chris Buckley of The New York Times noted that Jiang was listed third in a similar mourning announcement just two months ago:

For some political analysts seeking to fathom the undercurrents of power in China’s elite, Mr. Jiang’s reduced protocol ranking suggested something more: that he may finally curb any impulses to exert influence in Zhongnanhai, the party leadership’s compound in Beijing.

“In China, the saying goes that you must live up to your title to give your words sway, so if Jiang Zemin meddles in politics again after making this step, his reputation will be badly damaged,” said Yao Jianfu, a retired party official and researcher in Beijing.

“It’s a change in protocol, but now he’ll be expected to live up to it and stop being such a political busybody,” Mr. Yao said.

One observer, however, told NPR’s Louisa Lim that it’s too soon to say whether Jiang had really relinquished his behind-the scenes influence on party affairs:

“In terms of the symbolism, this is a step forward to mitigate and to guard against the so-called geriatric politics: the old men interfering, retired old cadres who have no position still having a big say in party affairs,” said Willy Lam, a China politics expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“But on a practical level, it’s difficult to prevent Jiang Zemin from still trying to do whatever he can to interfere in party affairs,” Lam said. “In the Chinese context, tradition dies hard and you have a long record of retired party elders still interfering in party politics.”