Vice President Hu Jintao was recently appointed Vice Chairman of the Communist Party's Central Military Commission, rendering him the most likely candidate to assume the role of president in 2002.
Beside Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao is the only other civilian who is a member of this commission. The position of Vice Chairman is seen in China as the most important stepping stone to the presidency, and his placement sends a strong signal throughout China that Hu is being groomed for the role of president when Jiang Zemin's term ends in 2002.
Previously, it seemed as though Zeng Qinghong was Jiang's probable successor. As Hu's main competitor, Zeng Qinghong is noted for having "better" credentials than Hu. Mr. Zeng is a trusted aide of President Jiang. Hu is the fifth highest ranking man in the Communist hierarchy, while Mr. Zeng is director of the party's Organization Department. Mr. Zeng's position gives him a considerable base of power, as he appoints personnel throughout the party. Whether Mr. Zeng will rise higher and actually become a threat to Hu is unclear.
Jiang's selection of Hu as his successor seems rather sudden, but upon closer examination of the politics within the Chinese government, a logical progression to this decision is visable. During the past few years, Hu Jintao has continually helped Jiang to build political power and to gain influence in the Communist Party and in the military. Possessing many connections within the Communist Youth League, Vice President Hu had the resources to aid President Jiang at several important junctures in consolidating his power. As such, President Jiang Zemin and Vice President Hu Jintao have enjoyed a political kinship, which may have played a role in both of their rises in the party structure.
Despite, his close ties to President Jiang, questions have arisen over Hu Jintao's quick rise in the party. His main achievement within the party was his crackdown on Tibet in 1989, which illustrated his ability to take whatever action is necessary to maintain party dominance. Most recently, he made the speech regarding the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. In this speech, he supported anti-NATO protests held by individuals with the correct permits. As the first government response to the mistaken bombing, Vice President Hu had the responsibility of representing the party view and was in a dangerous position, with the domestic and international media focused on his words. Hu came through his speech well and continued his rise in the party. Some people hold that Hu Jintao has not been tested enough in his career, but he appears to have passed two significant tests. From all this political speculation, it is clear that Vice President Hu may have some obstacles in his path to President of the PRC, but is well on his way.