Hu Jintao became the president of China in March 2003. The transition from Jiang to Hu was the first smooth leadership succession in Chinese Communist history. Hu replaced Jiang as Communist Party chief in November 2002, as President in March 2003 and as military chief in September 2004. Hu’s accession also marked the first time the heir apparent actually took the job. Hu was described as the leader of the Forth Generation, with Mao Zedong as the leader of the first generation, Deng Xiaoping as the leader of the second generations and Jiang Zemin as the leader of the third generation.

Under Hu Jintao, David E. Sanger and Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “China has become a $5 trillion industrial colossus, a growing military force, and, it sometimes appears, a model of authoritarian decisiveness, navigating out of the global financial crisis and sealing its position as the world’s fastest rising power...China is far wealthier and more influential, but Mr. Hu also may be the weakest leader of the Communist era. He is less able to project authority than his predecessors were. By any measure, Mr. Hu is the most constrained Chinese leader in modern times. The notion that he could engineer a sweeping policy change the way that Mr. Deng threw open China’s economy three decades ago is unthinkable; more often he is a negotiator, brokering deals in a collective leadership where he has never seemed to fully consolidate power.’ [Source: David E. Sanger and Michael Wines, New York Times, January 16, 2011]

Good Websites and Sources: BBC Profile ; Time Person of the Year Runner Up 2007 ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; PRC Profile ; CIA List of Current World Leaders /

Hu Jintao on Domestic Policy

Hu said he would work to reduce rural poverty and raise the wages of workers and promised more transparency and party discipline. Hu has made calls for more democracy but has been vague about what he actually meant and offered no plans for holding elections or making any major political reforms. He established a group to study constitutional reform but has moved slowly and cautiously. His efforts to reign in corruption have been done using the party’s internal discipline rather expanding he power of the court system or the press.

Hu's first major challenge was the SARS outbreak, which began gaining momentum around the same time he took office in March 2003, After some initial dithering, he acted decisively. After acknowledging some mistakes were made and a cover up took place—a rare event in itself—he fired his health minister and imposed a series of restrictions intended to keep the disease under control, which it was in a few weeks.

Hu Jintao is given some credit for tentatively and cautiously opening up the government. Legislative meetings are still largely scripted, debates sharply limited and decisions rubber stamped yet there is some mingling between regional representatives and Beijing officials and local concerns are at least discussed. At the National People’s Congress in March 2008, proposals were published for public comment before they were voted on; some meetings were open to journalists and more news conferences were held than in years past.

During his term from 2002 to 2005, the economy grew around 75 percent and per capita incomes roughly doubled from $1000 to $2000.

Hu Jintao and the Harmonious Society

Hu made—building a harmonious society—a reference to spreading the wealth from the haves to have nots and correcting the injustices of Chinese society and combating widespread corruption—a top priority. How serious and successful he is has not yet been determined. In the hinterlands the Communist Party has done little to respond to injustices (See Protests and Demonstrations, Government).

Hu has promoted the idea that the solutions to China’s problems lie in a return to Marxist and Mao ideology and Confucian values, and sees Chinese culture as providing it own moral direction, with perhaps a storng dose of nationalism thrown in for good measure. A line from the song that has accompanied the harmonious society campaign goes: “It’s most glorious to love the motherland, a great sin to harm her.”

Many are not exactly sure what all this means but some think it is a green light to some forms of dissent that allow citizens to let off steam. The Hu government has held public hearings on some controversial matters, allowed more freedom of the press and expression on the Internet and refused to wield a heavy hand when protests break out in part to let people vent their frustrations while the government maintains a firm grip on power.

In step with his plan to make China a more harmonious place and combat greed and corruption. Hu issued “Eight Virtues and Eight Shames”: 1) Love the motherland, do not harm it; 2) Serve don’t deserve people; 3) Uphold science, don’t be ignorant and unenlightened; 4) Work hard, don’t be lazy; 5) Be united and help each other, don’t benefit at the expense of others; 6) Be honest, not profit-mongering; 7) Be disciplined and law-abiding, not chaotic and lawless; 8) Know plain living and hard struggle, do not wallow in luxuries.” The message has been placed on billboards, featured on the front pages of newspapers and repeated over and over on television and radio.

In a New Year speech in 2007, Hu said he was committed ending the gap between the rich and poor, and cleaning up the environment. By then there had been a shift in focus in policy with the government saying that it was just as responsible for improving the quality of life as it was for deliver economic growth. In response to increasing discontent over income disparities, land seizures and other problems the government increased spending on education and health in rural areas.

There is a soothing tone to Hu’s rhetoric. His pursuit of harmony and peaceful rise contradict Marxist ideas like class struggle and revolution Although he seems committed on keeping Communist and Maoist structures in place he seems bent in making them more humane.

Hu Jintao and Stricter Government Control

with Bush
Many of Hu's action seem to be in line with the maxim that stability and stamping out threats to the party are hsu primary duties. In the mid 2000s, Hu gave the security services more authority to crack down on perceived threats to the Communist Party’s grip on power; mainland dissidents and activists and Chinese and foreign journalist were detained; controls were tightened on the Internet and the media; new limits were imposed on speech and other civil liberties.

In an address to the Central Committee on April 2005, Hu ranted about “hostile forces” trying to undermine the party by “using the banner of political reforms to promote Western bourgeois parliamentary democracy, human rights and freedom of speech.” A briefing written in Hu’s hand that was leaked to the Hong Kong press said the economic policies in Cuba and North Korea were wrong but their political policies were correct. This statements said much about what he expected in China.

Hu and his family have not been untainted by allegations of corruption and nepotism. In December 2006, a firm led by Hu Haifend, Hu’s son, was awarded an airport scanner deal. The company, Nutech, won a deal to provide scanners that detect liquid explosives for airports throughout China. The deal is expected to be worth tens of millions of dollars.

At an event in Beijing to celebrate the 30 year anniversary of the initiation of the “reform and opening” policy initiated by Den Xiaoping in 1978, Hu promised that China would open up more but, using language infused with Marxist-Leninist jargon, insisted that the Communist Party would remain in control. “Without stability, we can do nothing and [we will] lose what has been achieved,” he said. “Our party will...remain the backbone of all nation;s ethnic groups in dealing with various foreign and domestic risks and tests.”

Hu Jintao and Human Rights

The dissident Yue Jie wrote in Foreign Policy: With Hu's reign coming to an end, the Chinese people have realized that after Mao Zedong, no Chinese leader has been as hostile to the West as President Hu. Instead of launching political reforms, he tried to use the Chinese model of "crony capitalism" to compete with the Western democratic system. And the state of human rights in China took a huge step backward. [Source: Foreign Policy, February 13, 2012]

My own experience serves as proof. During the Jiang Zemin era from 1997 to 2002, I participated in many human rights activities, such as running the Independent Chinese Pen Center with Liu Xiaobo and sending out open letters, including one suggesting changing Mao's mausoleum into a museum about the Cultural Revolution. Secret police trailed me and tapped my phone, but they did so quietly, and with a sense of integrity. In 2009, during the Hu era, I published a book about Premier Wen Jiabao, claiming he wasn't a real reformer. That year, on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, police used a table to block my door and wouldn't let me leave my apartment. They acted brazenly and without a sense of shame. In October 2010, after Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, they put me under house arrest and then kidnapped and tortured me. One of the secret police warned me: "We could bury you alive within half an hour." I believed him. In the Hu era, China has taken a big step toward fascism.

Hu Jintao Revives Marxist Concepts  hu on Guizhou farm in 1980s.jpg
Hu on Guizhou farm in 1980s
President Hu Jintao has revived a key Maoist concept—correctly handling contradictions among the people?—so as to more effectively tackle China’s growing socio-political instability. In a speech to the Politburo in October 2010, Hu urged party cadres to “boost [society’s] harmonious factors to the maximum degree” through implementing policies that “match the wishes of the people, that take care of the people’s worries, and that can win over the hearts of the people.” Hu also vowed that the CCP would render decision-making ‘scientific and democratic’ and that policies would be anchored upon “the fundamental interests of the broad masses.” (Xinhua News Agency, September 29; People’s Daily, September 30).[Source: Willy Lam, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 8 2010]

In his Politburo address, Hu laid out multi-pronged tactics to attenuate society’s contradictions. Foremost are improving people’s livelihood, safeguarding people’s rights and privileges, and “upholding social equality and justice.” Secondly, Hu instructed officials “to acquit themselves well with masses-oriented work.” This is shorthand for being close to the masses particularly with a view to promoting reconciliation. Hu pledged that grassroots officials would spend more time talking to the masses and handling their petitions so that cadres can “hear the people’s voice in good time.” Thirdly, Hu proposed ‘strengthening social management and rendering social management innovative.” This included boosting ‘social coordination and participation by the public” under effective party-and-government supervision.

Even the official media, however, has criticized the authorities for failing to spread wealth more evenly. The major beneficiaries of two decades of uninterrupted prosperity have been the central government and 130 state-held conglomerates. For example, state coffers are expected to rake in some 8 trillion yuan in taxation and other incomes this year, or four times that of 2003 (See China Brief, “Beijing’s Record Revenue Haul Exacerbates Central-Local Tensions,” July 9). Despite the global financial crisis, the 130 government-run corporations realized revenues of 815 billion yuan ($121.64 billion) last year, up 17.1 percent from 2008. The four state-controlled banks made profits of 1.4 billion yuan ($208.95 million) per day in the first half of this year. People’s Daily pointed out that “the people are paying more attention to how the profits [of giant state firms] are being distributed and used.” “When can the entire people enjoy the profits reaped by these enterprises” asked the CCP’s mouthpiece. Indeed, laborers” salaries as a percentage of GDP have been declining for the past 20 years. At the same time, property prices in a number of coastal cities have continued to rise in spite of the government’s cooling-down measures (People’s Daily, August 30;, August 13; New York Times, August 29; Ming Pao, October 3).

Political observers believe Hu wants to bolster the status of the Communist Youth League (CYL) as the dominant—and perhaps most progressive—faction within the party.

Hu Jintao on Foreign Policy

right Hu has traveled a lot, helping to extend China’s influence abroad. He visited the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Nigeria, Laos, India, Pakistan His main foreign policy theme has been China's "peaceful rise."

Hu in many cases has given priority to developing relations with China’s Asian neighbors and Europe over developing relations with the United States and Japan. Jiang reportedly guided foreign policy when he was still around and even criticized Hu’s flexible “peaceful rise” policy as too soft, especially in terms of the message it sent to Taiwan. After Jiang retired all of his posts, Hu began pursuing his own agenda.

On a trip to Moscow, Hu spoke in favor a multipolar world. The statement was made after the invasion Iraq in 2003 and seemed to address perceived United States domination of the world. Hu became the first Chinese leader to attend a meeting of the G-8, a group that Jiang had called a “rich man’s club.”

Hu upstaged Bush when both leaders visited Canberra, Australia in October 2003. Hu came across as gregarious while Bush came off as aloof. Hu stuck around for three days and visited with a number of local businessmen and toured Sydney Harbor. Bush stayed for only 21 hours and had the roads swept clean of ordinary people when his motorcade came through.

In September 2005, Hu did a 12-day tour of the United States, Mexico and Canada. He met with U.S. President Bush in Washington; talked with Bill Gates in Seattle; addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York; and gave a speech at Yale University in which portrayed China as a “peacefully developing" nation. See International, United States

Hu Jintao After 17th Party Congress in 2007

Hu at the Olympics
‘scientific outlook on development” is the term used to bring balanced growth to China and more wealth to the provinces. In his speech before the 17th Congress he said, “There are still a considerable number of impoverished and low-income people in both urban and rural areas and it has become difficult to accommodate the interests of all sides.” The plan calls for doing more to help the poor and spending more on education and health.

Hu has been described as a CEO running the huge Communist bureaucracy. He secured his power base further by appointing people loyal to him in seven directly-controlled cities, provinces and autonomous regions, including Guangdong, Sichuan and Beijing, in November 2007. Hu already had loyalists in Shanxi, Hunan, Shaanxi and other provinces

Hu’s ideas on “equitable growth” and ‘scientific development” entered the Chinese constitution.

In his speech marking the Chinese Communist Party's 90th anniversary in July 2011, Hu Jintao made one point clear above all: "Success in China hinges on the party."

Who Ruled China During Hu Jintao’s Later Rule  hu army green.jpg
John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post: “Hu Jintao has led the Communist Party since 2002 but it is not clear that he has ever been fully in control. After Hu took power in 2002, his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, stayed on as chief of China's military for two years. And Hu was the top man in a nine-member Politburo standing committee, but at least five of the seats were occupied by Jiang's allies.[Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post September 24, 2010]

Towards the end of his term it seemed Hu was becoming increasingly boxed in and circumvented by rival power centers. David E. Sanger and Michael Wines wrote in New York Times, “President Obama’s top advisers have concluded that Mr. Hu is often at the mercy of a diffuse ruling party in which generals, ministers and big corporate interests have more clout, and less deference, than they did in the days of Mao or Deng Xiaoping, who commanded basically unquestioned authority.”[Source: David E. Sanger and Michael Wines, New York Times, January 16, 2011]

“China’s military has sometimes pursued an independent approach to foreign policy. So have many of China’s biggest state-owned companies, sometimes to the United States” detriment. The result is that relations between the world’s largest superpower and its fastest-rising one are at one of their lowest point in years, battered by confrontations that took Mr. Obama by surprise—and, on occasion, Mr. Hu as well.” [Ibid]

Speaking at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner hinted that jockeying for power and an coming leadership transition have degraded China’s ability to set consistent policies. “As China goes through this political transition over the next year or so,” he said, picking his words carefully, “in some ways, it’s having the effect of slowing the pace of reform because it’s inducing a bit of caution.” [Ibid]

“There is a remarkable amount of chaos in the system, more than you ever saw dealing with the Chinese 20 years ago,” Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser and Mr. Gates’s mentor, said Saturday. “The military doesn’t participate in the system the way it once did. They are more autonomous—and so are a lot of others.” [Ibid]

Different Power Bases Under Hu Jintao

20111029-white house Hu Visit.jpg
Hu, on paper at least, had the power over all the branches of government and the bureaucracy but often refused to was unable to exercise this power.John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post: “A new generation of officials in the military, key government ministries and state-owned companies has begun to define how China deals with the rest of the world. Emboldened by China's economic expansion, these officials are taking advantage of a weakened leadership at the top of the Communist Party to assert their interests in ways that would have been impossible even a decade ago.” [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post September 24, 2010]

“It used to be that Chinese officials complained about the Byzantine decision-making process in the United States,” Pomfret wrote. “Today, from Washington to Tokyo, the talk is about how difficult it is to contend with the explosion of special interests shaping China's worldview.” "Now we have to deal across agencies and departments and ministries," a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ties with China told the Washington Post. "The relationship is extraordinarily complex." Said a senior Japanese diplomat: "We, too, are often confused about China's intentions and who is calling the shots." [Ibid]

“This is a time when the Chinese government is weak," Shen Dingli, the executive dean of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Washington Post . "As a result, different interest groups have been unleashed in a less coordinated and less centralized way." "We have never had this situation before," Huang Ping, the director of the Institute for American Studies at China's Academy of Social Sciences told the Washington Post . "And it is troubling. We need more coordination among all agencies, including the military." [Ibid]

Increasing Power of the Military During Hu Jintao’s Later Rule

David E. Sanger and Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times: “Mr. Hu lacks the commanding authority of his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, or Mr. Deng. China’s hawkish military undid years of careful diplomacy in the last two years as it flexed its muscles in the South China Sea, harassing American naval vessels and alarming neighboring countries. Part of his problem is systemic... The absence of the equivalent of a National Security Council in China meant that the military could operate by its own rules.[Source: David E. Sanger and Michael Wines, New York Times, January 16, 2011]

“In a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in January 2011 Hu was apparently unaware that his own air force had just test-flown China’s first stealth fighter. Abraham M. Denmark of the Center for a New American Security in Washington says there are “many, many examples” in which the military has blindsided civilian leaders with weapons displays or statements that appear to flout official policy. The issue, he said, is not whether the military is loyal to its civilian leaders but whether Mr. Hu and others can make it bow to the government’s broader foreign policy goals, like closer ties to the United States. [Ibid]

The diplomatic row over disputed islands between Japan and China that began in September 2010 after a Chinese trawler collided with two Japanese Coast Guard (JCG) vessels in waters in around the islands was seen as a event that was precipitated with the tacit support of the Chinese military not the Hu leadership. John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post after the trawler collision took place: “U.S. officials have focused on the gap between the civilian side of the government and the People's Liberation Army. In recent months, military officers have begun to air their views on foreign policy matters, seeking to define China's interests in the seas around the country.” [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post September 24, 2010]

Gen. Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the army's general staff, has blasted the United States for its involvement in the South China Sea. And in August, Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan lashed out at the United States for reportedly planning to deploy the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in the Yellow Sea for joint exercises with South Korea. (The George Washington was subsequently sent to the Sea of Japan, farther from China.) [Ibid]

"For me, it is surprising that I'm seeing a general from the People's Liberation Army making a public statement regarding foreign policy, but this is China today,"Wu Jianmin, a former ambassador who helps run a think tank and advises China's leadership on foreign policy told the Washington Post. "This is not something the military should do," said Chu Shulong, professor of international relations at Tsinghua University. "These people don't represent the government, but it creates international repercussions when they speak out."  hu review army.jpg
Hu during army review

Increasing Power of Business Interests During Hu Jintao’s Later Rule

“The rise of state-owned corporate behemoths, independent power centers in their own right, has also changed the politics in China and made it harder to address disputes with the United States and other big trading partners,” Sanger and Wines wrote in the New York Times. “The administration’s latest report on Chinese trade practices, issued last month, says that the growing influence of these corporate giants raises significant questions about China’s support for “ongoing W.T.O. obligations, including core W.T.O. principles,” referring to the World Trade Organization.” [Source: David E.Sanger and Michael Wines, New York Times, January 16, 2011]

“China’s ban on exports of crucial rare earth minerals, cast by the government as a corporate decision made without state direction, is the most recent example of the tensions this drift toward state control has raised. But there are others: China Mobile, which dominates the nation’s vast wireless market, is pressing phone makers to adopt a Chinese standard for wireless communications that ignores the accepted global standard. And entire swaths of the Chinese market remain broadly closed to outside competition, including banking, mobile communications, electronic payment processing and the media. Overhauling protected sectors of the economy is no longer a priority of the leadership.” [Ibid]

John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post: “In Iran, China's state-owned oil companies are pushing to do more business, even though Beijing backed enhanced U.N. sanctions against Tehran because of its alleged nuclear weapons program. The China National Offshore Oil Co. is in talks to ramp up its investment in the massive Azadegan oil field just as Japanese companies are backing out, senior diplomatic sources said. The move by CNOOC would have the effect of "gutting" the new sanctions, one diplomat said. U.S. officials have stressed to China that they do not want to see China's oil companies "filling in" as other oil companies leave, a senior U.S. official said.[Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post September 24, 2010]

20111029-white house Hu Visit 765.jpg
at the White House

Different Power Bases and the Yuan

The debate over revaluing the yuan (renminbi) , a constant thorn in the relationship with the United States, has not advanced much partly because of a fight between central bankers who want the currency to rise and ministers and party bosses who want to protect the vast industrial machine that depends on cheap exports for survival. [Source: David E. Sanger and Michael Wines, New York Times, January 16, 2011; John Pomfret, Washington Post September 24, 2010]

Officials from the Ministry of Commerce, who represent China's exporters, have lobbied vociferously against revaluing the yuan, despite calls to the contrary from the People's Bank of China and the Ministry of Finance. So far, the battle has made it impossible for China to act decisively—and it is struggling with inflation as a result. Mr. Obama’s aides now want to try a different tack: Rather than harp on currency, they are going to raise other economic issues and see if the pressure of rising inflation, and the fear that it could cause social unrest, will compel the Chinese to raise the value of their currency. [Ibid]

In meetings with the U.S., Hu and his prime minister have indicated that they would let China’s currency gradually rise. But the Commerce Ministry promptly labeled the move a “catastrophe” for the Chinese economy. Despite Mr. Hu’s repeated assurances that the Chinese market would continue to open up to foreigners, business leaders complain that regulators have made it more difficult for foreign energy, communications and banking concerns to compete with China’s state-backed favorites. [Ibid]

20111029-white house Hu Visit cx.jpg
with Obama and the Carters

Foreign Relations Problems and a Lack of Leadership by Hu Jintao

David E. Sanger and Michael Wines wrote in New York Times, “American officials have spent years urging Mr. Hu to... rein in North Korea, ease up on dissidents and crack down on the copying of American technology, and they have felt at times that Mr. Hu agreed to address their concerns. But those problems have festered, and after first wondering if the Chinese leader was simply deflecting them or deceiving them, President Obama’s top advisers have concluded that Mr. Hu is often at the mercy of a diffuse ruling party in which generals, ministers and big corporate interests have more clout. [Source: David E. Sanger and Michael Wines, New York Times, January 16, 2011]

“Hu has repeatedly asserted China’s disinclination to challenge American power; his designated foreign policy coordinator, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, recently wrote an article reaffirming Mr. Deng’s warning, made backwhen China’s modernization was beginning, that the country should bide its time before seeking a global role...Adding to the uncertainty about Mr. Hu’s power is an expected leadership change in 2012. It is at once a choreographed transition to a new generation of leaders and a volatile minefield for all contenders, none of whom wish to be viewed as risk-takers, or as subservient to the United States.” [Ibid]

John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post: “While the power of the military seems to be rising the influence of China's Foreign Ministry is waning. Dai Bingguo, the current foreign policy supremo has no seat on the powerful 25-member Politburo; the military has two, and the state-owned sector has at least one.” [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post September 24, 2010]

Wu Jianmin, the former ambassador who helps run a think tank and advises China's leadership on foreign policy told the Washington Post, “We are not happy about many of the stories published today. We Foreign Ministry people have told them you shouldn't do that, but they say, 'So what” Let the Americans hear a different voice.' " Shen, the American studies scholar, said some in China's leadership may support the idea of sending mixed messages on foreign policy as a way of testing the United States or Japan. "The civilian government may think it does no harm," he said. "After all, if they succeed, it may advance China's interests." [Ibid]

Hu Jintao Praises Status Quo in His Last Months in Office hujintao wife.jpg
with wife Liu Yongqing
Ian Johnson and Keith Bradsher wrote in the New York Times: “Capping 10 careful years at the helm of the Communist Party, China’s top leader is stepping into history with a series of rear-guard actions.” In his last month in office Hu Jintao made it clear that he has little interest in the bold changes to the status quo that many Chinese now see as long overdue. “He’s worried about how history will view him,” said Qian Gang, who works with the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong. “On the whole, he is against reform.”[Source: Ian Johnson and Keith Bradsher, New York Times, November 8, 2012]

Mr. Hu made a key speech in July 2012 that dashed reformers” hopes for measures to resuscitate the faltering economy and release social pressures by opening the political system. At the opening of the 18th Party Congress he wrote himself a glowing eulogy: a 100-minute address that was also meant to serve as a blueprint for Mr. Xi’s term in office. In a voluminous, 64-page formal document issued at the party congress, Mr. Hu nodded to almost every manner of change—economic, social, political and environmental—and he opened the door to some potentially important measures to limit the dominance of the state in the economy. But he balanced those with warnings to guard against a rise in unrest, a striking admission for a man whose signature slogan was to turn China into a “harmonious society.”

‘social contradictions have clearly increased,” Mr. Hu wrote in the document. “There are many problems concerning the public’s immediate interests in education, employment, social security, health care, housing, the environment, food and drug safety, workplace safety, public security, and law enforcement.” Mr. Hu also lauded his own contribution to Communist Party ideology: ‘scientific development.” Most of his predecessors have had their own ideologies enshrined as guiding state doctrines. His repetition in his speech of the phrase, which means that the party should be pragmatic and follow policies that are demonstrably effective, implied that he, too, would be so honored. [Ibid]

The result was a speech that, while ostensibly supporting a new agenda, actually represented an attempt to block much of it. According to Mr. Qian, a leading expert on textual analysis of Chinese leaders” speeches, Mr. Hu’s speech hit on almost every antichange phrase used by Chinese Communist leaders. He referred to Communist China’s founder three times with the phrase “Mao Zedong Thought,” and he said that the party must “resolutely not follow Western political systems,” something not mentioned at the last congress five years ago. “They don’t say these terms lightly,” Mr. Qian said. “When they mention it, it matters.” Mr. Hu also coined a new term, pledging that the party will not follow the “wicked way” of changing the party’s course. [Ibid]

Mr. Hu’s speech is thought to have been drawn up in cooperation with his successor, Mr. Xi. While Mr. Xi has been consulting with liberal members of China’s intelligentsia, he either did not oppose Mr. Hu’s direction or was not able to change it. That is important, observers say, because Mr. Xi will not exercise unrestrained power when he takes over. Besides the other half-dozen members on the Standing Committee of the party’s Politburo, he will also have to listen to the advice of Mr. Hu; Mr. Hu’s own predecessor, Jiang Zemin; and an estimated 20 other ‘senior leaders.” As if to emphasize their role, these men were seated on the dais next to Mr. Hu. Many of them are in their 70s and 80s and have exercised power for decades. [Ibid]

Even though Mr. Hu’s speech was broadcast live on national television and on screens in Beijing subway cars, gauging popular opinion was difficult. [Ibid]

Microbloggers, who mostly live in cities and are fairly well educated, at times cast scorn on the talk. One blogger listed the Marxist terminology that Mr. Hu used and wrote simply “madness.” Others used laughing emoticons, while some delved closely into the speech for clues to new policies. Some noted his fleeting mention of China’s unpopular single-child policy. Mr. Hu’s tough language on social issues contrasted with his strong reaffirmation of the Communist Party’s commitment to the economic policy mantra of “reform and opening up,” a policy that has produced soaring trade and economic growth over the past three decades. [Ibid]

Mr. Hu offered some encouragement for changes along that front by calling for narrowing the government investment in state-owned enterprises to a few industries “that comprise the lifeline of the economy and are vital to national security.” It was one of the strongest hints to date that the government is mulling whether it should play less of a role in managing enterprises in many other industries. Mr. Hu also paid heed to complaints from entrepreneurs that regulators, loan officers of state-owned banks, local zoning officials and other government representatives discriminate against them in favor of state-owned enterprises. China must “ensure that economic entities under all forms of ownership have equal access to factors of production in accordance with the law, compete on a level playing field and are protected by the law as equals,” he said. [Ibid]

He also endorsed a series of other economic liberalization moves that have been discussed for years, although their progress has sometimes been slow during his tenure. Mr. Hu endorsed making interest rates and the exchange rate of the renminbi more dependent on markets and less on government fiat. The People’s Bank of China, the central bank, has already begun doing this by gradually broadening the range of interest rates that banks can charge based on the credit worthiness of borrowers and by widening the daily range in which the currency can trade against the dollar. Another frequent complaint of foreign governments and foreign businesses, China’s lax enforcement of copyrights and patents, drew at least an acknowledgment from Mr. Hu, who promised greater protection of intellectual property as a way to foster innovation in China. [Ibid]

Hu Jintao’s Legacy

Some say Hu Jintao paved the way for the creation of credible, sustainable Chinese middle class. Others have criticized him for allowing the income gap in China to expand under his watch and failing leave behind anything more than the promise of economic growth. [Ibid]

Ian Johnson and Keith Bradsher wrote in the New York Times: “Many economists have begun to question, however, whether Mr. Hu’s tenure has amounted to a “lost decade” for refashioning China’s investment-driven economy into a broader, more stable system. State-owned enterprises have gradually strengthened their roles in the economy through a combination of monopoly power and access to cheap loans from state-owned banks. [Source: Ian Johnson and Keith Bradsher, New York Times, November 8, 2012]

When Mr. Hu took power in 2002, there was much hope among liberals and Westerners that he would push the kind of reforms being talked about once again. But many analysts and political insiders are now saying that China, for all its advancements, retrenched into a quasi-command economy, ignored legal protections and expanded the state security apparatus. [Ibid]

Image Sources: Chinese government (China .org) , Xinhua, Wikipedia, White House

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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