Chinese president wins battle over Shanghai
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Chinese president wins battle over Shanghai

Chinese President Hu Jintao has shown surprising strength in his power struggle with his predecessor.

india Updated: Oct 01, 2006 09:37 IST

Chinese President Hu Jintao has shown surprising strength in his power struggle with his predecessor Jiang Zemin over Shanghai.

Four years after the generational change at the top of China's Communist Party, Hu, its new general secretary, has bolstered his authority by sacking Chen Liangyu, the party chief in the booming port city.

The removal of Chen, a member of the politburo, deals a blow to the "Shanghai clique" loyal to Jiang and paves the way for further personnel moves in the run-up to next year's important 17th Communist Party Congress. Though 80 years of age, Jiang has continued to exercise considerable influence.

Hu had not only had Chen arrested last week but also a half-dozen other top Shanghai officials, including the head of the party administration as well as former chairmen of the city's electricity supplier and a large real estate company. There has not been a comparable purge in China for more than a decade.

As a member of the politburo, Chen was among the two dozen politicians who pull the strings in China and are considered untouchable.

Shanghai officials have been accused of graft and the misuse of billions of yuan from a pension fund. While the scandal is ostensibly about corruption, it is mainly being used as a weapon in party infighting.

On one side is the power base of Hu, who has few ties to Shanghai and relies on allies in the Communist Party Youth League. On the other side is the "Shanghai clique", which seems to have done as it pleased for too long.

A wealthy financial hub, Shanghai has always seemed to play a special role in China. It even torpedoed Beijing's economic policy.

The central government's efforts to cool down China's overheated real estate market went nowhere in Shanghai because Chen and his cronies were profiting from speculation and from other illegal businesses. The pension fund was used as venture capital.

Shanghai officials were undone for one of two reasons. Either the protection they were getting from Jiang—who was Shanghai's mayor and party chief before unexpectedly rising to national leader after the bloody 1989 crackdown on the pro-democracy movement—had become to weak, or their corruption had become too bold.

Jiang was able to halt an investigation of his Shanghai protégés three years ago. This time, however, he quickly realised that the accusations had been well-prepared and the battle was lost. Hence Jiang had no choice but to give Hu his blessing for the purge, as party members pointedly noted.

"The Jiang Zemin era is over," headlined the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based English-language daily.

Just two weeks earlier, foreign diplomats and observers saw Hu as weak. But his sudden, well-planned attack on the "Shanghai clique" suggests he is now firmly in control.

Hu's next moves could become clear at the coming session of the Communist Party Central Committee, which he has scheduled for Oct 8-11 in Beijing.

First Published: Oct 01, 2006 09:37 IST