Is Hu Jintao an absolute ruler?

And what about his weaknesses.

Questions:

1. How would you describe the position of Hu Jintao in the state and party structure? Is he beyond any criticism?

2. Is it something we could call his weakness and what about his strong points?

Answers:

Andrew Nathan, Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, Co-author (with Bruce Gilley) of the book China’s New Rulers: The Secret Files

1. In the Chinese structure there are three powerful hierarchies – the Party, the State, and the military. Hu is at the top of all of these (as gen sec of the party, head of state, and chair of the Central Military Commission), and that allowed him to coordinate their work. Although Hu does not have the kind of absolute power that Mao had, nor does he have the overwhelming prestige that Deng had in his time, Hu’s dominance does seem to be secure. He is surrounded by other figures who are also powerful, but is the only person in the system who is positioned in such a way that it is his job to consult and coordinate all the others. Others have considerable authority to act within their own spheres of responsibility – the propaganda chief decides a lot of propaganda issues, the security chief does his job, the people who run the economy do their jobs – and Hu would seldom step in to intervene in somebody else’s work, as this would be a sign of lack of confidence. But by the same token no one can take away from him – unless one wants to create a political crisis by trying to do so – the job of coordinating across all spheres of policy when large issues arise. So in that sense his power is the greatest and by all appearances his position is secure.

2. Hu has never been good at creating an attractive or charismatic public persona, but that is hardly a weakness in the current Chinese system. His image is very tightly controlled and Chinese people seem to accept this. By all signs, behind the scenes he is an effective operator because he consults widely among the other leaders and guides them to a consensus that he apparently shapes. He is himself the ultimate decision maker on major matters of foreign policy such as those dealing with the US, Russia, the Taiwan issue, Japan, and so forth. In this area he is perceived as having enjoyed a great deal of success — after all china is rising in the world and has more and more clout.

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