GP Short Notes # 684, 6 December 2022
Jiang Zemin: A brief political history
Born before the liberation of China, in 1926, Jiang Zemin served as the President of People’s Republic of China for two terms from 1993 to 2003. He was an electrical engineer from Shanghai Jian Tang University and had witnessed a Japanese invasion and a Communist revolution during his early life. He represented the core of the party’s third generation of Chinese leadership (one of the only four leader alongside, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping). He was the chairman of the Central Military Commission in the post-Tiananmen period and gave up the position in 2004. He succeeded Deng Xiaoping as the President in the post-Tiananmen square event. Inadvertently, he had the task of rebuilding China’s international image and leading the economic growth of the country.
Jiang Zemin was from Shanghai faction and his close ally, former Vice President Zeng Qinghong, facilitated the rise of Xi Jinping as the leader of the party. He had stacked China’s most powerful leadership body, the Politburo Standing Committee, with his own protégées. He had differences from then-President Hu Jintao’s factions (Chinese Communist Youth League) of officials. Hu Jintao wanted Li Keqiang while Jiang Zemin supported Xi Jinping.
Legacies of Jiang Zemin
1. Economic reform
Jiang Zemin has left behind a mixed legacy. His tenure is being looked at with nostalgia. Under his leadership, China actually started seeing an economic miracle. He took forward the Reform and Opening up started by Deng Xiaoping. His theory of Three Represents which was ratified in the 16thParty Congress in 2002 is documented in the Chinese Constitution. It implies that the Party can represent not only the working class but also the “development trends of advanced productive forces, the orientations of an advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people of China.” He was instrumental in transforming the Chinese economy and society by introducing the elements of a free market economy. He introduced sweeping financial reforms, independent central banks, use of interest rates to combat double-digit inflation. Overall, he was instrumental in leading China out of the post-Tiananmen Square isolation. After 12 years of negotiations, in 2001, China acceded to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) under his tenure. It is a landmark in China’s economic globalisation. It is perhaps Jiang’s most important legacy. He also started the “go out strategy of China” and appointed Zhu Rongji to implement the economic reforms, transformation of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs), real estate, and the banking sector reforms. The tenth five-year plan of China was started under him. The go-out strategy was initiated in 1999 by the Chinese government to encourage Chinese investments abroad. By 2002, China started coming out of the isolation and the economy had started to show an upward trajectory.
2. Military preparedness
Jiang Zemin's legacy goes beyond China’s economic miracle. In the sphere of the military, he preparedthe Chinese army for modernisation and ordered the PLA and the armed police to stop their commercial ventures.
3. The Taiwan Straits
The third Taiwan crisis of 1995-96 took place under his rule and he gave a famous speech reinstating Taiwanese unification with China adding an eight-point proposal on the issues that have bearing on both sides. He reacted sharply to the Taiwanese President’s visit to the US and strongly supported Taiwan’s reunification issue. He banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement and jailed many human rights, labour, and pro-democracy people in China. Subsequently, there has been a decline in their numbers from 70 million in 1999 to only 2,000 in 2009.
4. Restoration of Hong Kong
The restoration of Hong Kong from the UK to the People's Republic of China was done under his supervision. He delivered a speech as the first Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. This year also marks the 25 years of the handover. In addition, under his rule, China won the bid for the 2008 Olympics.
Jiang Zemin passed away on 30 November 2022 in Shanghai due to ill health. His remains were transferred to Beijing from Shanghai on a special flight. China is observing a mourning from 30 November till 7 December and the funeral will take place on 6 December 2022. A funeral committee had been formed under Xi Jinping. It consists of many senior leaders of China. Most of the Chinese Websites such as Xinhua net, People’s Daily and CGTN turned to monochrome as a mark of respect to him. Notably, his demise has come up in at very delicate time when China itself is facing a series of protests. On the contrary, his departure also means the shrinking number of voices within the Chinese Communist Party who can speak opposing views to leader Xi Jinping. The ruling Communist Party declared Jiang Zemin a “great proletarian revolutionary” and “long-tested communist fighter” in a statement on his death. His tenure would definitely be remembered as the period of smooth transitions and under him, China managed a steady political and social course progress.