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Young & Kent: International Relations since 1945 2e

Hu Jintao

Hu Jintao is the fourth (since March 2003) and current President of the People’s Republic of China and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China.

Hu Jintao (Hu Chin-t'ao) was born December 21, 1942 in Jiangyan, Jiangsu province. Hu was a talented student in high school, excelling in such activities as singing and dancing. He was also active in the Communist Youth Group. Hu joined the Communist Party prior to the Cultural Revolution in 1964 while still a student at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. He graduated with a degree in hydraulics engineering in 1964. He climbed the hiearchy of the Chinese Communist Party due to a number of fortunate encounters, obedience and perseverance.

Since taking over as Party General Secretary at the Sixteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China (2002), Hu Jintao has appeared to have a more egalitarian style than his predecessor. Hu and his premier Wen had proposed to set up a Harmony Society which aims at lessening the inequality in the country. They had focused on sectors of the Chinese population that have been left behind by the economic reform, and have taken a number of high profile trips to the poorer areas of China with the stated goal of understanding these areas better.

The major early crisis of Hu's leadership was the outbreak of SARS in 2003. Following strong criticism of China by the World Health Organization and others for initially covering up and responding slowly to the crisis, he sacked several party and government officials, including the health minister. Hu and Wen took steps to increase the transparency of China's reporting to international health organizations.

Another test of Hu's leadership was Beijing's low key response to protests against the implementation of Article 23 of the Basic Law in Hong Kong in 2003. In an unprecedented move, the legislation to implement the Article was withdrawn by the Hong Kong government, after a large popular protest on July 1, 2003. At the same time, Hu gave a public show of support to Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa after gauging public mood in Hong Kong. Many observers see the Central Government's handling of the situation as characteristic of Hu's quiet style, and unlike Tung Chee-Hwa, Hu remains a popular figure in Hong Kong.

One of the biggest challenges Hu faces is the big inequality between Chinese rich and poor, for which discontent and anger mounted to a degree wreaking havoc on CCP's reign. Furthermore, the prevailing cronyism and corruption plaguing China can drag China into deep crisis too. Also it remains to be seen if Hu is capable of managing the continued peaceful development of China while avoiding international incidents, at the same time presiding over an unprecedented increase in Chinese nationalist sentiment.

Observers indicate that Hu distinguishes himself from his predecessor in both domestic and foreign policy. In domestic policy, he seems to want more openness to the public on governmental functions and meetings. Recently, China's news agency published many Politburo Standing Committee meeting details. He also cancelled many spendthrift events that are traditionally seen as communist extravagances, such as the lavish send-off and welcoming-back ceremonies of Chinese leaders when visiting foreign lands. Furthermore the Chinese leadership under Hu has also focused on such problems as the gap between rich and poor and uneven development between the interior and coastal regions. Both party and state seem to have moved away from a definition of development that focuses solely on GDP growth and toward a more balanced definition which includes social equality and environment effects. Hu has differed from his predecessor by actively engaging in the current North Korea nuclear crisis. He has also assured neighbors in the region with the concept of China’s peaceful rise.

At the same time, Hu has contradicted some initial expectations that he was a closet liberal. Hu was a pragmatist and hard-liner as far as any effort of political reform is concerned. Observers have noted that under Hu, censorship of the news media and harassment of dissidents has increased and turned severer and more frequent than under his predecessor. Although his son-in-law, Mao Daolin used to be CEO of Sina.com, a famous portal of China, Hu obviously has no taste for the free flow of information on the  Internet. Blocking of websites takes place more frequently, among which include websites such as Nytimes.com, Washingtonpost.com and Wikipedia. Furthermore, while Hu has attempted to make decision making more transparent and to increase rule of law he has also explicitly stated that his goal is to strengthen and make the party more efficient rather than weaken the party or move toward a pluralistic political system.

While Hu Jintao has given some signs of being more flexible with regard to political relationships with Taiwan, he appears to be unwilling to reconsider Chinese reunification as an ultimate goal or to renounce the use of force if Taiwan were to declare independence. The combination of both soft and hard approaches was apparent in the Anti-Secession Law which was passed in March 2005 and in the unprecedented meeting between Hu and Kuomingtang leader Lien Chan in April 2005.