Protesters Smell Last Chance?
Tibetan protests have started. Tibetan activists are attempting a march from Dharamsala to Lhasa. Tibetan monks demonstrated inside Tibet. Tibet's sympathizers from the west lose no opportunity to publicize the plight of Tibet. Why now? Because China wants to showcase the Beijing Olympics as proof of its arrival as a world superpower. And Tibetans smell their chance to use this occasion and create such embarrassment for Beijing as might force it to revise its Tibet policy.
The Beijing Olympics will start on August 8th and end on August 24th. As precondition for holding the games, China is compelled to lift all curbs on foreign media for the duration of the games. That provides the crucial fortnight for Chinese dissidents to stage happenings that embarrass China. The Chinese government is aware of their designs. It is sparing no effort to thwart them. The Indian government of course came down heavily on the Dharamsala marchers. The Dalai Lama dissociated himself from their activities and even criticized them. That did not defuse China's anger. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman described Dala Lama's acceptance of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet as fraudulent. He claimed that Dalai really seeks outright secession.
But apart from publicity stunts what can Tibetan protesters accomplish? Tibetan publicity stunts however are not all that might worry President Hu Jintao. There is a potential revolt within the party that has not yet fully subsided. Unfortunately there are no China experts in India who enlighten us through the media. So one must rely on stray media reports to fathom what could be happening. The following developments gleaned from stray reports could be significant.
First recall the recent background. It is widely acknowledged that silent tension was simmering between President Hu Jintao and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin. The latter was never reconciled to his resignation from the Presidency and from the Chairmanship of China's Central Military Commission (CMC). In October 2007 in the 17th Communist Party Congress in Beijing President Hu forced the exit of his most potent rival from the post of Vice President, Zeng Quinghong, the closest loyalist of Jiang Zemin. Zeng, like Jiang, belonged to the powerful Shanghai group which controls China's affluent business elite. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao on the other hand hail from impoverished rural China which is ruthlessly exploited by rich Shanghai backed business interests.
Zeng has a very distinguished lineage. Both His father and mother were revolutionaries under Mao and participated in the Long March. This ensures for Zeng respect of the Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA). President Hu on the other hand, like Jiang Zemin, never served in the army. Neither Hu nor Jiang as President could exercise real authority over the PLA. Jiang ordered the PLA to eliminate its business activities. His order was ignored. But then Jiang seemed to have wormed his way into PLA's favor through compromise. When Jiang became President, Deng Xiaoping appointed ageing General Liu Huaqing as PLA chief with instructions to protect Jiang. But later Jiang and the General fell out. The latter quit and Jiang smoothed his relations with PLA. Could that be because he accommodated PLA generals in business activities for making huge profits?
Despite Zeng's ouster last October, the nine-member Politburo was heavily pro-Jiang. That apparently led President Hu to target Jiang loyalists for corruption and end their careers. And now in the currently held National People's Congress President Hu has planted his trusted men to key positions as he seeks to eliminate all lingering influence of Jiang.
Pandering to Long March loyalists perhaps, he has appointed two of Mao's daughters and a grandson who will sit on the advisory body to parliament. The wheelchair-bound son of late Deng Xiaoping is due to become a vice-chairman. And while addressing army personnel President Hu for the first time donned a military uniform although he never served in the army. Rather like President Bush donning combat gear to announce, 'Mission accomplished!' after removing Saddam, although he never served in Vietnam! But will all this buy President Hu the allegiance of the PLA? That is why Zeng Quinghong will need to be watched. More than his mentor, Jiang Zemin, with his princeling lineage Zeng is the natural leader to attract PLA loyalty. Question is whether he will attempt to exploit this.
Are President Hu's recent appointments traceable to a little publicized development that could trigger a fresh power struggle? Jiang Zemin and former PM Li Peng, also of the Shanghai group, have not attended the current National People's Congress. Jin Zhong, chief-editor of Hong Kong's Open magazine, famous for inside information on the Chinese communists, claims that both Jiang Zemin and Li Peng are suffering from serious illnesses, and therefore could not attend the conference. According to him Jiang Zemin has lost control over one side of his face and suffers from dementia due to Parkinson's disease. If this is correct, Zeng Quinghong is Jiang's obvious heir apparent. If he continues the struggle he will most likely seek support of elements within the PLA. Question is what issue can demolish Hu's reputation and standing?
That is where the issue of Tibet might, just might, come in handy. China's strident tone on Tibet even after Dalai Lama conceded Chinese sovereignty in return for Tibet's autonomy is puzzling. It denotes victory for China. It vindicates China's vaunted 'one nation, two systems' policy. Yet the Chinese government refuses to recognize this. It insists on total assimilation of Tibet. Why? Deng had appointed Hu Jintao as administrator of Tibet and future President when Jiang became President. Hu ruthlessly repressed the Tibetans. Can it be that his failure to achieve Tibet's total cultural integration can be perceived as failure which he fears would be seized by his rivals? In fact, given the changed global context since he administered Tibet, his failure to accept Dalai Lama's generous offer might be seen as a bigger political and diplomatic blunder.
There are daily diatribes by China's foreign ministry against protesting Tibetans and their sympathizers in the west. But neither the Tibetans nor any foreign power can change power equations inside Tibet. However, President Hu's domestic rivals could. They could seize any successful Tibetan protest that mars the Olympic Games to denigrate President Hu. If President Hu is nervous he perhaps looks in the wrong direction. The threat to his position may not be foreign. It could be from enemies within. It would serve President Hu's own interest, and also China's, if he heeded the Dalai Lama's peace offer.