A vignette of the reemergence of former President Jiang Zemin at the heart of the highest levels of Chinese politics: The opening of the 18th Party Congress was marked by loud–thunderous is the word the headline writers would have used–applause for the arrival of President Hu Jintao, the first top leader to make his entry. Behind Hu was Jiang, now 86, hair dyed what is described as walnut brown, and far from having passed on to that great standing committee in the sky, as had been rumored last year. Then came the rest of the Politburo standing committee. It was plain to see who were the two most important men in Chinese politics.
A man who has been out of office for more than a decade remains not just a Party elder but a power broker. The likely line-up of the new Politburo standing committee to be unveiled, finally, in less than a week bears, as we noted earlier, Jiang’s imprint. He has a frenemy relationship with Hu. Both men represent powerful factions within the Party, Jiang the Shanghai group and Hu the Youth League (not that those are the only two overlapping and interweaving sets of interests in the Party that straddle its evershifting fault lines). Jiang’s longstanding patronage of paramount leader apparent Xi Jinping was instrumental in Hu changing horses from his original choice for his successor, Li Keqiang, who rose through the Youth League. And Hu doesn’t look to have got all the allies he would like on the final list for the standing committee to help cement his own future power from behind the throne, particularly if Wang Yang, the reformist 57-year old Guangdong Party boss, is passed over as word has it that he has been.