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Jiang Zemin, the former Chinese leader who led the rise of his country, has died

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BEIJING (AP) — Former President Jiang Zemin, who led China out of isolation after the army crushed pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and championed economic reforms that led to a decade of explosive growth, died Wednesday. He was 96.

Jiang died of leukemia and multiple organ failure in Shanghai, where he was a former mayor and Communist Party secretary, state television and the official Xinhua news agency said.

A surprise choice to lead a divided Communist Party after the upheavals of 1989. Jiang has seen China through historic changes, including the revival of market-oriented reforms, the return of Hong Kong from British rule in 1997, and Beijing’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 1997. 2001 year.

Even as China opened up to the outside, Jiang’s government suppressed dissent. It imprisoned human rights defenders, labor and democracy activists and banned the spiritual movement Falun Gong, which the ruling party saw as a threat to its monopoly on power.

Jiang relinquished his last official title in 2004 but remained a behind-the-scenes force in the controversies that led to the rise of current president Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2012.

Xi tightened political control, suppressed the few dissenters who remained in China, and restored the dominance of state-owned industries.


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Rumors that Jiang may be in failing health have spread since he skipped a ruling party congress in October at which Xi, China’s most powerful figure since at least the 1980s, broke with tradition and appointed himself a third five-year term. term as a leader.

In 1989, Jiang was on the verge of stepping down as Shanghai Party leader when he was summoned by then-leader Deng Xiaoping to unite the party and the nation. He succeeded Zhao Jian, who was dismissed by Deng for his sympathies with the student-led Tiananmen Square protesters and kept under house arrest until his death in 2005.

During his 13 years as party general secretary, China’s most powerful post, Jiang oversaw the country’s rise to economic power, welcoming capitalists into the ruling party and attracting foreign investment after China joined the WTO. China overtook Germany and then Japan to become the second largest economy after the United States.

Jiang won a political prize when Beijing was chosen to host the 2008 Summer Olympics after a previous bid failed.

A former head of a soap factory, Jiang ended his career in the Communist era’s first organized succession, handing over his post as party leader in 2002 to Hu Jintao, who also assumed the ceremonial title of president the following year.

Jiang tried to retain influence by remaining chairman of the Central Military Commission, which oversees the party’s military wing, the 2 million-strong People’s Liberation Army. He resigned from the post in 2004 after complaints that he could split the government.

Even after he left office, Jiang had influence over promotions through his network of protégés.

He is said to have been disappointed that Deng chose Hu as the next leader, blocking Jiang from appointing his successor. But Jiang was considered successful in elevating allies to the party’s seven-member Standing Committee, China’s inner circle of power, when Xi became leader in 2012.

Haunted and owlish with large glasses, Jiang was a bubbly personality who played the piano and loved to sing, unlike his more reserved successors Hu and Xi.

He spoke English enthusiastically and read the Gettysburg Address to foreign guests. During a visit to Britain, he tried to persuade Queen Elizabeth II to sing karaoke.

Jiang has faded from public view and made his last public appearance alongside current and former leaders atop Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate for a military parade in 2019 to mark the party’s 70th year in power.

Jiang was born on August 17, 1926 in the wealthy eastern city of Yangzhou. Official biographies downplay his family’s middle-class origins, emphasizing instead his uncle and adoptive father Jiang Shanqing, an early revolutionary who died in battle in 1939.

After graduating from Shanghai Jiaotong University’s Department of Electrical Engineering in 1947, Jiang rose through the ranks in state-controlled industry, working at a food factory, then a soap factory, and China’s largest automobile factory.

Like many technocratic officials, Jiang spent part of the ultra-radical Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 as a farm laborer. His career ascension resumed, and in 1983 he was appointed minister of the electronics industry, then a key but backward industry that the government hoped to revive by inviting foreign investment.

As mayor of Shanghai from 1985-89, Jiang impressed foreign visitors as a representative of a new breed of foreign Chinese leaders.

A fierce political fighter, Jiang defied predictions that his tenure as leader would be short. He consolidated power by promoting members of his “Shanghai faction” and giving the military double-digit annual percentage increases in spending.

Foreign leaders and CEOs who avoided Beijing after the crackdown were persuaded to return.

When Deng retired in 1992 to lead a revival of market reforms in the face of conservative opposition following the escalation of the Tiananmen War, Jiang followed.

He supported Premier Zhu Rongji, the party’s No. 3 leader, who pushed through painful changes that cut 40 million state-owned industry jobs in the late 1990s.

Zhu began the privatization of urban housing, sparking a building boom that turned China’s cities into forests of high-rises and fueled economic growth.

After 12 years of negotiations and Zhu flying to Washington to lobby the Clinton administration for support, China joined the WTO in 2001, cementing its position as a magnet for foreign investment.

Despite his good public image, Jiang was serious about challenging the ruling party’s power.

His most famous target was Falun Gong, a meditation group founded in the early 90s. Chinese leaders were intimidated by his ability to attract tens of thousands of followers, including officers.

Activists who tried to form the opposition China Democratic Party, which is allowed under Chinese law, were sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of subversion.

“Stability comes first,” Jiang ordered, a phrase his successors used to justify intense social control.

Standing alongside Britain’s Prince Charles, Jiang led the return of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, marking the end of 150 years of European colonialism. The nearby Portuguese territory of Macau was returned to China in 1999.

Hong Kong was promised autonomy and became a springboard for mainland companies to go abroad. Meanwhile, Jiang has turned to coercion with Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing considers part of its territory.

During Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996, Jiang’s government tried to intimidate voters by firing missiles into nearby sea lanes. The United States responded by sending warships to the area as a sign of support.

At the same time, trade between the mainland and Taiwan has grown to billions of dollars a year.

China’s economic boom has split society into winners and losers, as waves of rural residents migrated to cities for work, the economy grew sevenfold, and urban incomes nearly doubled.

Protests, once rare, have spread as millions have lost government jobs and farmers have complained about rising taxes and fees. The number of divorces has increased. Corruption flourished.

One of Jiang’s sons, Jiang Mianheng, became involved in controversy in the late 1990s as a telecommunications agent and later chairman of China Netcom Co., a telephone company.

Critics have accused him of abusing his status as a father to advance his own career, a common complaint against the children of party leaders.

Jiang Mianheng, who holds a Ph.D. from Drexel University, went on to hold prominent academic positions, including president of Shanghai University of Technology in his father’s old power base.

Jiang is survived by two sons and a wife, Wang Yiping, who worked in government bureaucracies in charge of state-owned industries.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.

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