BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Communist Party chief Hu Jintao is seeking to cement his grip on power at a closed-door party meeting which began on Sunday while further whittling away at the residual influence of his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.
About 350 full and alternate members of the elite Central Committee opened a four-day plenary session which will decide the fate of Jiang ally Chen Liangyu, sacked as Shanghai party boss in September for channelling pension funds into illegal investments.
“It means that Hu Jintao is now more or less in full control, that the Jiang Zemin era has ended,” Joseph Cheng, a China watcher at City University of Hong Kong, said of Chen’s downfall.
The plenum, the sixth since Hu replaced Jiang as party chief in 2002, opened in Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency said without giving further details.
Analysts expect the meeting to strip Chen of his party membership and possibly turn his case over for prosecution.
In a power play, Hu took on Shanghai, Jiang’s political stronghold and China’s financial hub, to root out official graft and instil loyalty. Chen’s downfall crippled the “Shanghai Gang” of Jiang allies and proteges.
Chen and other independent-minded local leaders had defied the central government’s moves to cool the overheating economy.
“Take one out as a warning to a hundred,” political commentator Liang Kezhi said, quoting a Chinese saying.
Chen also lost his seat on the party’s 24-member Politburo, the first member of the decision-making body to be dismissed since 1995 when Jiang purged and jailed Beijing party boss Chen Xitong. The two Chens are not related.
The plenum, or full assembly, of China’s ruling body is set to endorse Hu’s doctrine of building a “harmonious society” which will eventually replace Jiang’s “Three Represents” theory, which opened the party’s doors to private entrepreneurs.
Analysts say Hu’s doctrine is aimed at correcting Jiang’s mistakes while keeping his prestige intact and resolving a plethora of problems held over from the Jiang era.
Reforms during Jiang’s 13-year watch have been blamed for a yawning gap between rich and poor and between wealthy coastal regions and the impoverished hinterland.
Exorbitant medical, school and housing costs, land grabs and pollution spawned tens of thousands of protests a year.
The plenum will discuss policies aimed at achieving greater social equality and expanding inner-party democracy, analysts said.
Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng has been named the city’s acting party chief in an apparent attempt to contain any political fall-out from Chen’s ousting.
The jockeying is not limited to Shanghai. In the run-up to the plenum, Hu appointed a political ally as governor of the southern province of Hunan and another as party boss of the southern region of Guangxi.
Hu is likely to promote more allies to key posts in an effort to further consolidate power ahead of the 17th Party Congress next year. This is when a far-reaching leadership reshuffle is expected to ease top members of Jiang’s old guard out of their posts. A congress is held once every five years.
“Between this party plenum and the 17th party congress will be a time when Hu Jintao will be able to really consolidate his own power by putting his own people in,” said David Zweig, a China watcher at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.