Of the many stories, which circulate about Mr. Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, who is paying his first state visit to India and Pakistan from November 20, 2006, one is particularly delectable. This relates to the period (1988 to 1992) when he was posted as Secretary of the Party Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region. In 1988-89, Tibet witnessed anti-Chinese and pro-Dalai Lama riots. Deng Xiao-ping was greatly worried over the situation. Every day, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, which is their internal intelligence agency, used to record with a video camera the prevailing situation and send the recording to Deng. He would watch it after dinner. One night, he was watching the recording of a rioting mob being controlled by the Police and the Army under the leadership of a youngish looking man.
Deng asked one of his aides: " Who is he? "
"Hu," the aide replied.
"Hu is good," remarked Deng, got up and went to sleep.
With Tibet in the safe hands of Hu, Deng did not have to spend sleepless nights worrying about it.
"Hu is good"— was one of the famous remarks of Deng, which found wide circulation in the party and government circles of Beijing. Hu's career was made. There was no stopping him. He kept rising steadily in the ruling apparatus till he reached the top at the age of 61.
Hu was born in Jixi in the Anhui Province in December 1942. His father was a tea seller. He was hardly seven years old, when the communists under Mao Tse-Dong captured power and set up the People's Republic of China. He joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in April 1964 and began to work in July 1965 after graduating from the Water Conservancy Engineering Department of the Tsinghua University. Like his predecessor Mr.Jiang Zemin, he was an engineer (hydel power) by training and profession before he switched over to politics.
Hu began his party work in west China's Gansu Province in 1968 and stayed there until 1982 when he became a member of the Secretariat of the Communist Youth League of China Central Committee and president of the All-China Youth Federation. It was in that capacity that he first visited India in 1984.His forthcoming visit as the Chinese President would be his second.6.In 1985, he was appointed Secretary of the CPC Guizhou Provincial Committee. From there, he went to Tibet in 1988. His success in the pacification of Tibet won him not only high recognition from Deng, but also an out of turn promotion in 1992 as a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee at the First Plenum of the 14th CPC Central Committee. From 1993 to the end of 2002, Hu was concurrently president of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, which trains senior party cadres and organises ideological research.
In September 1997, Hu was re-elected a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee at the First Plenum of the 15th CPC Central Committee. He became the Vice-President of China in March 1998 and Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission in September 1999.In November 2002, Hu was elected General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee and in March,2003, he was elected the President of China. He has since taken over also as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission in September 2004. Thus, he is the unchallenged leader of the State and Party apparatus in China.
Since taking over as the Party General Secretary in November,2002, he has proved many analysts wrong. Before November, 2002, he always preferred to remain in the shadow of Jiang without coming to the forefront. Many in China and outside speculated that Jiang, with the support of his cronies from his native Shanghai who constituted the majority in the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, would manage to retain control of the powerful Armed Forces by holding on to the post of the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, even after ceding the posts of State President and Party General Secretary to Hu. He proved them wrong by undermining the support base of Jiang in the Standing Committee and ultimately pushing him out of the post of the Chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Hu followed a three-pronged policy in Tibet when he was in charge there—ruthless suppression of the followers of the Dalai Lama, firm enforcement of law and order and promotion of education and economic development. He called it working with two hands—one hand maintaining security, law and order and the other promoting development and welfare. While the world outside knew only the details of the first two, it knew very little of the third. He, therefore, acquired a reputation as a law and order obsessed hardliner. Many expected him to emerge as a hardliner at the national level too, but they have not been proved right. So far as political control at the national level is concerned, his rule has been no different from that of Jiang—strict, but not over-harsh as Hu was in Tibet. However, some Western analysts do not agree with this benign projection of Hu.(See the story at the bottom of the page)
Hu knows and understands Tibet better than any other Chinese leader today and continues to take personal interest in the developments there. Even under Jiang, the Central government's and the Party's Tibetan policy had the distinct stamp of Hu. It was he who persuaded the Party and the government to refuse to recognise the Dalai Lama's nominee as the Panchen Lama, arrest him and proclaim their own nominee as the Panchen Lama after a fraudulent process of determining the re-incarnation of the previous Panchen Lama. Fears of violence in Tibet over this issue were belied. He reportedly believes that similarly after the death of the Dalai Lama, the government and Party should choose his successor.
There has been speculation that the Dalai Lama intends outwitting the Chinese by proclaiming before his death that he would not be born again, thereby depriving Beijing of an opportunity to proclaim its own nomiee as the 15th Dalai Lama and installing him in Lhasa. A correspondent of Der Spiegel, the German weekly, recently asked Mr.Zhang Qingli, the present party chief in Tibet, what Beijing would do in such an eventuality. He avoided giving a direct reply. He merely said as follows:
"There has always been a specific system to search for a successor to the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. According to the historic rules and religious rituals, monks must travel throughout the country and draw lots from the Golden Urn. But the central government has the final say. The reincarnation of the Panchen Lama has been regulated since the Qing dynasty, that is, since the 17th century. The search for and naming of the 11th Panchen Lama was done strictly in accordance with historic rules. This is why he was recognized by the central government. He is the legal Panchen Lama. The Dalai Lama broke the historic rules during the search for the Panchen Lama. He didn't even have the Golden Urn from which to draw lots. The Dalai Lama creates chaos. But the market for him here in Tibet is shrinking."
Other interesting points made by Zhang, which give an indication of the Tibetan policy under Hu, are as follows:
"We have a clear policy. The door to negotiations will always be open to him, but only when he truly and comprehensively abandons his intentions to divide the motherland, intentions that are directed against society and the people, only when he gives up his splittist activities and only when he openly declares to the world that he has given up claims to independence for Tibet.
"The problem is that his behavior and his statements contradict one another. He says: "I want to take a middle path and I accept that there is only one China." But in reality he has not spent a single day not trying to split the motherland.
"What his so-called middle path means is this: He wants to integrate Tibetan settlement areas in the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai and Gansu into Tibet. He wants to be in charge of this "Greater Tibet" and he demands that the People's Liberation Army be withdrawn from the region. Besides, he wants to see a return to an earlier, theocratic feudal realm, as dark and gruesome as it was. In those days, government officials, noblemen and monks ruled 95 percent of the population. And he wants even more autonomy for Tibet than has been given to Hong Kong and Macau. That is splittism.
"His government-in-exile is illegal. Our central government has never recognized it. No country in the world, including Germany, recognizes it diplomatically. There are no talks between the Chinese and his so-called government-in-exile. The current contacts merely involve a few individuals from his immediate surroundings. The talks revolve around his personal future.
"We are very pleased about this railroad (to Tibet inaugurated earlier this year). Everyone is convinced that what the Communist Party has achieved on the roof of the world is a miracle. It demonstrates China's strength and its economic and technological progress. But, more important, the railroad shows that the Chinese Communist Party is doing everything it can to improve life for the various nationalities in the border regions. Tibet is now economically linked to other provinces and the rest of the world.
"I can assure you with all responsibility that this (talk of nuclear weapons in Tibet) is all a complete fantasy. There is no nuclear weapons factory in Tibet."
The text of the interview was carried by Der Spiegel of August 16, 2006.
When he took over, some analysts projected Hu as a moderate, who, according to them, believed that the time has come for setting in motion a policy of political liberalisation. They have not been proved right either. The four years of China under Hu show that it would be very difficult to categorise him either as a hardliner or a moderate, but one thing is obvious. He has a political and economic mind of his own despite his not belonging to the coastal elite to which the previous leaders such as Jiang, Mr.Zhu Rongji etc belonged. His mind has generated new ideas the like of which were not seen under the previous coastal elite. Examples: Importance of social harmony, high GDP growth rate as well as welfare of the masses, reduction of income and regional disparities, social and economic justice etc. It is said that under Jiang, there was an obssessive preoccupation with maintaining high growth rates to the exclusion of other ideas, but Hu has been propagating that a nation cannot flourish in an enduring manner through high growth rates alone unless there is a just distribution of the wealth thus created.
His government is also seen as a little more transparent and a little less bureaucratic than that of his predecessor—with the bureaucratic reflexes of covering up sins of commission and omission a little less in evidence. Faults are more readily admitted. Recently, China's news agency published many Politburo Standing Committee meeting details. He has cut down extravagant protocols such as spectacular send-offs and welcoming-back ceremonies for him and other leaders when they go abroad. In 2004, Hu ordered all senior leaders to stop going to the Beidaihe retreat for their expensive annual summer brainstorming sessions since he felt that it was unnecessary expenditure. His response to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong has been measured and low key. He even withdrew a piece of legislation when large sections of the Hong Kong population protested against it as violative of their rights. Even some of his critics concede that he has handled the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong with finesse. In the beginning of 2006, Hu launched a "8 Honours and 8 Disgraces" movement in the whole of China in a bid to promote a more selfless and moral outlook amongst the population.
He has been more flexible and more sophisticated in dealing with Taiwan than his predecessor. He reportedly thinks time is on China's side and that it should be patient while dealing with Taiwan instead of creating a confrontational situation. He seems prepared to tolerate the status quo so long as the Taiwanese authorities do not try to promote separation from China. While vigorously maintaining that Taiwan is an integral part of China, he has expressed a readiness to consider sympathetically the Taiwanese aspiration for "an international living space."
Like his predecessor, he continues to attach importance to China's relations with the US and the European Union, but, unlike his predecessor, he has been paying more attention to Asia, the Islamic Ummah, Africa and Latin America—partly for political and partly for economic reasons. The political reason is to remove their fears of a rising China. The economic reason is the need for energy supplies, new markets for Chinese goods and new investment destinations for surplus Chinese capital. He has strengthened the economic component of Chinese diplomacy. He has transformed China's economic and military clout into an equally strong diplomatic clout. The active role played by China in relation to North Korea and Iran and the success of the recent China-Africa summit are examples of the growing Chinese diplomatic clout.
He continues to follow his predecessor's policy of strengthening Pakistan's military and economic capabilities in order to maintain its psychological feeling of parity with India and expand China's presence in the countries bordering India by taking advantage of the tensions in their relations with India, without allowing this to affect the developing relations with India. He firmly adheres to China's claim to the Tawang area in Arunachal Pradesh, which he considers as vital for maintaining political stability in Tibet, while giving up the claim to Sikkim, which he does not consider as vital for this purpose. Like his predecessor, he continues to strengthen military-related infrastructure in Tibet for possible use against India in the eventuality of the differences over Arunachal Pradesh leading to a confrontational situation one day. Avoid a confrontational situation with India, while at the same time preparing itself to face a confrontational situation, if it becomes unavoidable. That was Jiang's policy. That continues to be Hu's policy too.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.