A kinder, gentler Beijing


Issue: "As the West burns," Sept. 6, 2003

Immediately following the inauguration of his new administration, Chinese President Hu Jintao and his senior associates visited some remote and poor areas of China. Mr. Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao in particular went into poor family homes and made promises to help develop the backward areas of China. The message intended: The Hu administration was in touch with the Chinese people, hence their true representatives.

Here are eight other signs of change:

Just as Mr. Hu and his administration tried to make a fresh start, the SARS crisis broke out in China and quickly spread to other parts of the world (see p. 38). Reacting swiftly to internal and external pressure, Mr. Hu fired the minister of health and the mayor of Beijing-an unprecedented act in the history of the PRC government. Mr. Hu mobilized China to fight the disease and emerged as a winner in the crisis. During the SARS crisis, Mr. Wen, the premier, established himself as a caring premier by going places without putting on a gauze mask.

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In the midst of their struggle with SARS, Jiang Zemin and Mr. Hu took an unprecedented action to remove the commander and political commissar of the Chinese navy.

In May, Mr. Hu and his Politburo members reaffirmed China's national defense strategy as proclaimed in Mr. Jiang's speech to the CPC's 16th convention. This suggests a gradual transition of military power to Mr. Hu without the speculated Hu-Jiang rift.

Mr. Hu abolished the ceremonial send-offs and reception for top PRC leaders traveling abroad, starting with himself when he set out on his trip to Russia. Mr. Hu also broke the CPC's tradition of having "summer vacation" for party senior officials at the seaside resort of Beidaihe.

The Hu administration also decided to streamline CPC- and government-run newspapers and magazines.

Mr. Hu handled the Hong Kong people's large-scale protest in a nonconfrontational way. On July 1, over half a million Hong Kong residents took to the street to protest proposed legislation known as Article 23 of the Basic Law of Hong Kong. Several days later, the Hong Kong people staged another large-scale protest. Thanks to Mr. Hu's low-key handling of the protest, the crisis did not escalate into a violent confrontation. Hong Kong's chief executive subsequently decided to postpone the passage of the legislation and to resume dialogue with his citizens.

Mr. Hu attended the G-8 meeting in France. This was the first time a Chinese head of state appeared at the G-8 meeting, a breakthrough in China's foreign-policy conduct.

Mr. Hu offered to host talks between North Korea and the United States over Pyongyang's nuclear-weapons program. But the Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs went further, shuttling to Moscow, Pyongyang, and Washington and acting as a go-between to arrange six-party talks to begin in late August in Beijing among North Korea, the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan.


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