Thursday, June 08, 2006
It still seems that he is just sick with cancer. But then the question is why does he re-surface? Why not just rest until he feels better? The problem for Huang and for the Jiang faction is that in the run-up to the 17th Party Congress, they have to show that they still have considerable clout, or junior officials will all bandwagon around Hu Jintao, leading to a complete hollowing out of the Jiang faction. He has to appear as if he is still making vital decisions. Within the next few months, the preliminary list of 17th Central Committee members will begin to circulate in the higher reaches of the party. If he does not appear in public, other politburo members and junior officials will assume that he is out of the political game and discount his preference as they deliberate the next leadership group. Needless to say, the Shanghai faction is trying desperately to prevent that outcome, even going as far as making a gravely ill man appear in public.
Chinese Official Reappears, but Mystery Persists
Long-Absent Vice Premier Has Key Roles
By Edward Cody, Washington Post Foreign Service, WP, Thursday, June 8, 2006; A16
BEIJING, June 7 -- Suddenly Huang Ju was back, with the familiar quizzical eyebrows arching from behind large wire-framed glasses, sitting alongside other members of the Chinese Communist Party's supreme policymaking body, the Politburo's nine-member Standing Committee.
Huang's return, which was broadcast on official television Monday evening and reported prominently in the next day's People's Daily, came after five months during which he had dropped from sight, generating a swirl of rumors, reports and more or less informed speculation about what had happened to one of China's most powerful men.
Huang's reemergence settled nothing about his status -- people still wondered whether he was deathly ill, under investigation for a security breach or tainted by a wife with her hand in the till. But it dramatically illustrated the secrecy behind which China's leaders work, a dark cloak that hides even the most mundane details about how they rule the world's most populous nation.
The Bush administration has repeatedly urged China's leaders to be more open about their military buildup and long-term strategic intentions. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld voiced the demand yet again at a weekend conference in Singapore. But China's tradition of secrecy -- on military matters and nearly everything else that touches the party's senior ranks -- has proved durable over the years, rebuffing foreign and Chinese curiosity with equal resolve.
The curiosity surrounding Huang was more than idle. For one thing, Huang, a vice premier, has been the party's overseer of economic reforms, vital to foreign investors and further modernization. Moreover, his seat on the Standing Committee, Chinese and foreign analysts pointed out, is key to President Hu Jintao's attempts to solidify his party leadership before the 17th party congress scheduled for October 2007.
Huang, they noted, belongs to the so-called Shanghai Faction left behind by former president and party leader Jiang Zemin. Hu took over from Jiang as party leader in 2002 and as president the following year, but he has yet to push out all of Jiang's proteges and replace them with his own favorites. A recent attempt by Hu to appoint a loyalist as Shanghai's party secretary fell through, suggesting that Jiang's faction retains a measure of power, a veteran Western diplomat said.
So when Huang dropped out of sight in January without explanation, people started asking questions. They got no authoritative answers, however, because that is not the way China's government works. Any news about senior leaders has to come from the official New China News Agency, which, agency journalists say, submits every story dealing with such officials to the party Propaganda Department before sending it out. Nothing about Huang's situation was authorized for release.
The official media reported in April, and again in May, that Huang had sent messages to conferences that he normally would have attended. But nothing came down on his personal situation. A Foreign Ministry spokesman, asked about Huang's status, responded that he had nothing to offer.
Without information, Beijing buzzed with rumors. Journalists talked about Huang's absence over lunch. Officials confided their theories to one another. An elderly couple said their friends were even discussing it during early morning exercises in the courtyard of their Beijing apartment block.
The most believable rumor said Huang, 67, had received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and was undergoing therapy. This version received added credibility when a spokesman for the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference said March 2 that "Comrade Huang Ju was hospitalized for treatment because he was unwell. He is currently recovering."
But other versions circulated as well. One said that Huang's wife, Yu Huiwen, was in police custody being investigated for financial irregularities and that Huang had been asked to step aside pending the investigation. Other reports said that Huang himself was under suspicion and that police were interrogating him as well as Yu.
More recently, a mid-level official said he was told, in great detail, that Huang was indirectly involved in a security leak to Taiwan and was being extensively interrogated by national security officials at a government facility in the Beijing suburbs.
Huang's daughter, the official said, had a long-standing relationship with a Taiwanese businessman whose father has ties to the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian. Suspicions were aroused that the relationship might have become a conduit for state secrets through carelessness or espionage, he said. Hu and his lieutenants were particularly concerned, the official said he was told, because Chinese intelligence learned that the content of a Standing Committee meeting on Taiwan policy was passed to Chen within days of its being held.
Sorting out the reports was impossible, even for relatively well-informed Chinese. Many informed people bought into the cancer theory, particularly after the spokesman's comment in March, but they were far from sure and did not know how authoritative it was.
"I've forgotten where I learned about it, maybe from my boss or colleagues," said a young official at a government ministry. "But my colleagues and I have been talking about it privately. It seems that everybody knows, but nobody knows where the news originally came from. Maybe some senior officials or people around him leaked the information. Who knows?"
A young party official, speaking with friends, laughed at their attempts to find out for sure. "You want to confirm that information?" he said. "Forget about it."
Huang appeared pale but steady during his brief appearance on China Central Television. He was shown attending a conference of scientists and engineers, sitting alongside other Standing Committee members: Hu; Premier Wen Jiabao; Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People's Congress; Jia Qinglin, chairman of the People's Political Consultative Conference; Vice President Zeng Qinghong; Wu Guanzheng, who monitors party discipline; Li Changchun, who directs party propaganda; and Luo Gan, the security chief.
The People's Daily, the party organ, mentioned Huang on page one in his order of seniority with the other Standing Committee members. But the only photo showed Hu, prominent against a bright orange background under a bold headline saying he had delivered "an important speech" to the gathered scientists.
Researcher Zhang Jing contributed to this report.