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Who is Hu? India will know soon...

Not much is known about Hu Jintao, the 63-year-old Chinese president who controls all crucial levers of power in his country.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2006 09:16 IST

Not much is known about Hu Jintao, the 63-year-old Chinese president who controls all crucial levers of power in his country - the party, the government and the military, except for his public persona: a hardline pragmatist who believes in blending economic growth with visions of a harmonious society.

Much like the Middle Kingdom, despite its aggressive embrace of market capitalism, Hu, who comes here this week courting another Asian emerging power often touted as its rival, remains an enigma even in Beijing's elite circles.

Popular, affable but self-effacing and not the kind to bask in media limelight, the man chosen by Deng Xiaoping to succeed Jiang Zemin in 2002 and who became the president a year later, forged his mind and soul in the brutal and defining Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

A hydraulic engineer by profession, Hu was born to a tea-selling family in Anhui province in 1942 on Dec 21, 1942. As a student, during the heydays of Mao's Cultural Revolution, he joined the Communist Party of China in 1964 and was known for his earnest lessons in ideological purity to fellow students.

The idealist student with a photographic memory now epitomises the fourth generation of Chinese leaders and is known for his crackdown on corrupt officials and pro-poor sympathies in an economy high on relentless GDP growth over two decades, creating sharp socio-economic disparities.

Hu is known for shunning all cliques and spent his early career in the poor hinterlands of China rather then the urban prosperous coastal areas - the milieu that perhaps accounts for his "people-first" and harmonious society vision that has become the mantra of his regime.

This "man with the common touch" image contrasts sharply with his urbanite and slightly flamboyant predecessor Jiang who loved to show off his skills at piano to visiting foreign dignitaries.

Another defining event in Hu's career as he steadily climbed the ladder of the Communist Party of China hierarchy-conscious power structure was his appointment as party chief of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1988 at a time when the Tibetans were aggressively, perhaps more vocally than ever, pushing their demand for independence.

Hu, an ideological puritan, took a tough stance and ordered a crackdown in early 1989 that, some say, led to the deaths of many Tibetan activists. He may have got himself hated by human rights activists and those who espouse the cause of Tibet, but Beijing took note of the man's earnestness and resolve.

No wonder one of Hu's favourite sayings is that success in life "requires resolve, attention to concrete matters and courage in making decisions".

By 1992, Deng promoted the 49-year-old to the innermost sanctum of Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee.

Six years later, Hu became vice-president of China as Jiang wanted Hu to play a more proactive role in foreign affairs. In 2002, he became general secretary of the CPC. Hu's crowning moment in his decades-old loyalty to the party came when he became president in 2003.

So, what does Hu's presidency mean for India as the world's two most populous nations emerge as global players in an evolving Asian geopolitical architecture? From the statements put out by the Chinese foreign ministry recently, it's clear Hu's vision of the "peaceful rise of China" is open to the idea of a self-assured India that is set to wield greater influence in world affairs in days to come. It's synergy, and not rivalry or competition Beijing wants with India, as a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

This is where Hu's "earnest, means business" persona may help as the two Asian giants have to bridge trust deficit between them before they resolve trickier issues like the border row.

His background as an administrator in Tibet and his no-nonsense approach to the protests there 17 years ago is, however, a cause of worry and may perhaps explain Beijing's renewed assertion over claiming Tawang, the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama, and the whole of Arunachal Pradesh as part of China - a claim rejected by India.

Is that humble, genial man of the people image merely a mask? Does it hide a ruthless imperialist and an ideologue nursing superpower ambitions for China who will not hesitate to put the party first and morals second? New Delhi will know soon.

First Published: Nov 20, 2006 09:16 IST