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Hu May be China's President, but Jiang Zemin Still Holds Power, say Analysts - 2003-07-02

Some political analysts say new President Hu Jintao's efforts to seize the reins of political power in China have stalled after some recent signs of progress.

In a major speech marking the 82nd anniversary of the founding of China's Communist Party, President and Party General Secretary Hu Jintao says the party must dedicate itself to helping the poor.

President Hu said the party must be concerned with the people's "real and most direct needs," including helping laid off workers and lifting people out of poverty.

But he spent most of the address urging party members to do a better job of implementing communist political theories, particularly those of his immediate predecessor and political rival, Jiang Zemin.

Author and political analyst Gordon Chang said Mr. Hu's focus on Jiang Zemin's "Three Represents" theories shows that Mr. Hu has not yet fully taken the reins of political power.

"Despite the party leadership transition, Jiang Zemin remains the most powerful politician in China today and Hu Jintao's references to the Three Represents shows that he must defer to the older leader," Mr. Chang said.

President Hu took over his leadership position from former President Jiang Zemin in stages over the last eight months. But Mr. Jiang retained enormous power by packing the top levels of government with his protégés and by controlling China's politically active military.

Diplomats and analysts say Mr. Hu's political stature grew during the recent Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, crisis, when he fired top officials for bungling and effectively managed the fight against the deadly virus.

At the same time, Mr. Jiang lost political points because the health minister fired for lying and incompetence was one of his cronies.

Some analysts wrote that Mr. Hu might use this new clout to push some political reforms, such as allowing the 67 million Communist Party members to play a greater role in choosing party leaders, and improving legal protections for owners of private property.

They said recent stories in China's tightly controlled state press are hints that Mr. Hu would voice support for reforms during his party anniversary speech. But those ideas were nowhere to be found in Mr. Hu's address.

"Hu Jintao did make progress during the SARS crisis in consolidating a little bit of his position, but it is clear he still has a long way to go before he becomes the most important politician and supreme leader in China," Mr. Chang said.

Mr. Chang said it may take five years for China to finally finish the leadership transition.

He said the struggle for power distracts leaders who are taking an overly cautious approach to coping with China's daunting list of problems, such as unemployment, growing government debt, and the mountain of bad debts that threaten the banking system and economic growth.