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Viewing cable 09BEIJING2063, PRC LEADERSHIP STABLE DESPITE TENSIONS; XI STILL

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09BEIJING2063 2009-07-20 10:10 2010-12-28 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beijing
VZCZCXRO1479
OO RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHBJ #2063/01 2011043
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 201043Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY BEIJING
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5286
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIJING 002063 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/20/3034 
TAGS: PGOV CH
SUBJECT: PRC LEADERSHIP STABLE DESPITE TENSIONS; XI STILL 
ON TOP 

REF: A. BEIJING 2040 
B. SHENYANG 127 

Classified By: Acting Political Minster Counselor Benjamin Moeling. Re 
asons 1.4 (b/d). 

Summary 
------- 

1. (C) Embassy contacts have reported that relations among 
China's top leaders remained largely stable, and the 
arrangements put in train for succession at the 18th Party 
Congress in 2012 appeared to be holding, with Xi Jinping 
likely to become Party chief and Li Keqiang to become 
Premier. Three years out, however, this succession scenario 
was by no means guaranteed, contacts contended, as a number 
of factors could cause Xi to stumble. End Summary. 

Tense, but Stable, Succession in Place... 
------------------------------------------ 

2. (C) Echoing views we have heard from a number of contacts 
over the past several months XXXXXXXXXXXX, told PolOff 
on May 13 that the Party leadership, in general, was 
"stable." Chen said it was too early to be certain about the 
outcome of the 18th Party Congress in 2012, but that he 
considered Xi Jinping to still be the front runner and Li 
Keqiang the runner-up. On May 26, XXXXXXXXXXXX
senior editor at the Central Committee paper Guangming Ribao, 
separately agreed that the final succession outcome was too 
early to call but that the situation at the top was stable. 
All the leaders know that they had to hang together, Dong 
said, or they would hang separately. That was the lesson of 
the 1989 Tiananmen unrest and the fall of the former Soviet 
Union, according to Dong. 

3. XXXXXXXXXXXX who served on the Central 
Committee General Office research staff when Premier Wen 
Jiabao was General Office Director in the late 1980s, stated 
in a meeting with PolOffs on May 18 that despite natural 
tensions and differences of view, the leadership was "very 
stable" and will remain so through 2012. In his view, Deng's 
final legacy to the Party was a system designed to avoid the 
vicious infighting of the past. The leadership lineup put in 
place at the 17th Congress was not likely to change, with Xi 
Jinping most likely becoming Party General Secretary and Li 
Keqiang taking the Premier slot. 

Hu to Retain CMC Chair? 
----------------------- 

4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX separately predicted that, as things now 
stand, Hu Jintao would probably stay on as Central Military 
Commission Chair at the 18th Party Congress in 2012, 
following the example of former Party chief Jiang Zemin in 
2002. Chen dismissed the possibility of Hu trying to retain 
his positions of General Secretary and President, even though 
there was no formal rule mandating that he step down. There 
was strong consensus in the Party against China's top leader 
serving beyond two five-year "terms." Chen claimed that Li 
Changchun, He Guoqiang, and Zhou Yongkang, widely perceived 
as belonging to the Jiang Zemin-Zeng Qinghong political 
network, had all "sided with" and "supported" Hu Jintao and, 
in return, hoped this would pay dividends for their political 
allies in 2012. As a result, Chen asserted, Hu Jintao was 
now "very strong," even though he still must rule primarily 
through consensus as the "first among equals" among the 
nine-member Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC). 

... But Succession Sweepstakes Not Set in Stone 
--------------------------------------------- -- 

5. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said, it 
was still "very early," and Xi could "stumble," potentially 
resulting in changes to the lineup in 2012. For example, if 
Hu's strength continued to grow, Hu might yet try to elevate 
Li Keqiang into the top job, Chen calculated. Chen said that 
the upcoming provincial personnel reshuffles would provide 
one clue to the leadership plans for 2012 as well as a 
barometer to measure Hu's strength. 

6. XXXXXXXXXXXX formerly international page 
columnist of China Youth Daily, told PolOff on March 11 that 
one should not assume that Xi's promotion to Party chief was 
inevitable. Xi's role as PRC Vice President was "useless," 
Wang said, and there had only been one succession in Party 
history that went according to plan, the transfer of power 
from Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao in 2002. Wang said that rumors 
continued to circulate that people were trying to undermine 

BEIJING 00002063 002 OF 002 


Xi as heir apparent. Wang claimed that Xi's extended 
diplomatic visits to Mexico and five Latin American and 
Caribbean nations, February 8-23, were unusual for a Vice 
President and speculated that Xi may have been sent hoping he 
would perform poorly and show that he was not cut out to be 
China's top leader. Xi's "inappropriate" comments in Mexico, 
Wang huffed, were unbecoming a Vice President and showed that 
Xi was not very well cultivated (ge ren xiu yang bu hao). 
(Note: In Mexico, Xi lashed out at "idle foreigners with 
nothing better to do" than criticize China.) The CYL group 
still hoped Li Keqiang could takeover from Hu, Wang stated. 
(See Ref B for rumors of possible maneuvering between Xi and 
Li in China's northeast.) 

Wen-Hu Tensions Downplayed 
-------------------------- 

7. (C) Chen dismissed reports in Western media of tension 
between Wen and Hu. In particular, he discounted 
interpretations of Wen's absence at the May 12 memorial 
ceremony commemorating last year's Wenchuan earthquake as 
evidence of such tension. Chen stated that it would be 
unusual for both Hu and Wen to appear together at such an 
event, noting that there was only one other Politburo 
Standing Committee member present, seventh-ranking Li 
Keqiang XXXXXXXXXXXX  was not a 
sign of tension with Hu. Wu attributed the absence of Wen 
photographs in the commemorative displays, which many 
observers claimed was a sign of tension because of Wen's high 
profile presence in Wenchuan at the time of the earthquake, 
to political maneuvering by Sichuan Party Secretary Liu 
Qibao. Liu, a CYL-faction official in Hu's camp, was simply 
trying to curry favor with Hu, according to Wu. Wu 
maintained that despite natural differences of views between 
Hu and Wen, the two had a very close working relationship 
which would continue until the next leadership turnover in 
2012. (See Ref A for persistent criticism of Wen Jiabao). 

Jiang and Zeng Retain Influence 
------------------------------- 

8. (C) Wu Jiaxiang said that former Party chief Jiang Zemin 
remained powerful but that his influence was waning over 
time. Chen Jieren similarly told PolOff last fall that Jiang 
could not be dismissed as a factor in leadership politics but 
that his age and ill health were starting to erode his 
authority. Chen dismissed rumors circulating last year that 
Hu Jintao was attempting to undermine Jiang, stating that it 
"made no sense" for Hu to risk provoking a conflict when 
Jiang's influence was already decreasing. 

9. (C) Chen claimed that former PBSC member, and close Jiang 
ally, Zeng Qinghong also retained considerable influence and 
that Jiang exercised influence through Zeng. Wu, who knows 
Zeng Qinghong personally, said that Zeng was still powerful 
and exercised his influence through Xi Jinping. Zeng was one 
of Xi's strong supporters in the General Secretary 
sweepstakes at the 17th Party Congress, according to Wu. Wu 
added that it was not strange that Zeng had withdrawn from 
public view since he retired. In addition to current Party 
norms which favored retired leaders staying out of public 
view, Zeng shunned the limelight of his own accord. In 
addition, Zeng had been suffering from minor health problems 
lately. 

Biographical Note on Zeng Qinghong 
------------------------- 

10. (C) Zeng was one of the most open-minded of all 
contemporary Chinese leaders and was a strong supporter of 
political reform, according to Wu Jiaxiang. In Wu's view, 
had Zeng become Party General Secretary, he would have led 
China toward democracy. While Zeng was a strong supporter of 
former Party paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, Zeng's mindset 
was closer to that of former Party chiefs Hu Yaobang and Zhao 
Ziyang and former Politburo members Wan Li and Xi Zhongxun, 
Wu claimed. In addition, Wu said that Zeng had "a big heart" 
and was somewhat of an unsung hero within the Party who had 
quietly come to the aid of many comrades in trouble. Wu 
related a personal experience with Zeng following the 
military crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989 when Wu, 
having attempted suicide, was "covered with blood," and Zeng 
used his influence to ensure that Wu was promptly sent to a 
hospital and treated for his wounds. Zeng "saved my life," 
Wu related, adding that Zeng had similarly "saved" many other 
people 
GOLDBERG