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Where Is Jiang Zemin?

Has news of his death been greatly suppressed?

9:00 AM, Jul 14, 2011 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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“Up until the fall of communism, ideology was a prime driver of the official party line,” explained a long-time western analyst of Chinese politics. “But with the rise of the U.S. for a time as the ‘sole superpower’ Chinese leaders felt the need to make nationalism the center of gravity in its political education of the population and its foreign policy.”

Thus, during his tenure, Jiang gave the PLA the green light to conduct three separate military exercises that were as much about intimidating the Taiwanese leadership as they were about enhancing the force’s military preparedness. This brought about “ups and downs” in relations between the ROC and the PRC in the words of Taiwan's former Deputy Secretary General Chang Jung-kung.

When Hu became president he inherited a political time bomb in that Jiang had created a nearly concrete deadline for the takeover of Taiwan. Some skillful maneuvering by Hu managed to defuse the hostility in the relationship—and has ultimately brought the two countries into the closest working relationship that they have ever enjoyed. In many ways he has succeeded in managing the Taiwan issue better than all of his predecessors.

But this climb down from a hard-line position on Taiwan has, in the opinion of some observers, cost Hu the full support of the military. Earlier this year the military conducted the first flight of a new, stealthy fighter aircraft, the Chengdu J-20, during the visit to Beijing by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The test, which appeared to be scheduled specifically to take place during Gates’s meetings with the Chinese leadership, embarrassed Hu in front of his American guest, particularly since from all indications the flight was conducted without his advance knowledge.

Jiang’s legacy is a troubled one, with his tenure having left a number of unresolved problems that the one-party regime still struggles with. No one in the Chinese leadership is particularly interested in a discussion of that legacy or—even worse—what it says about the dilemmas facing the nation today.

Reuben F. Johnson is an aerospace and defense writer based in Kiev. He writes frequently on Chinese political-military affairs.

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