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Former Chinese leader attends ceremony

Former president Jiang Zemin listened to a speech by the current president, Hu Jintao, yesterday in Beijing, raising health questions. Former president Jiang Zemin listened to a speech by the current president, Hu Jintao, yesterday in Beijing, raising health questions. (Minoru Iwasaki, Pool/AP)
By Edward Wong
New York Times / October 10, 2011

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BEIJING - Jiang Zemin, the former Chinese president who was said to have fallen gravely ill in July, appeared at a ceremony in Beijing yesterday, fanning speculation about his health and the role he might play in leadership power struggles next year.

A visibly frail Jiang, 85, was seen on state television yesterday morning standing with other Chinese leaders in the Great Hall of the People and singing along with the national anthem to honor the 100th anniversary of the revolution that ended the Qing Dynasty.

One photograph showed Jiang, dressed in a dark suit and red tie and wearing square-rimmed glasses, waving as he took a seat.

Reports of Jiang’s failing health appeared in the Hong Kong news media on July 6, days after he did not appear at a celebration for the 90th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party. Chinese officials tried to block or limit discussion online of Jiang’s health, and Xinhua, the state news agency, called talk of Jiang’s death “pure rumor.’’

Since then, several people with connections to senior party members have said in interviews that Jiang had suffered heart failure and other complications and was revived by doctors at the 301 Military Hospital in Beijing, though there has been no official confirmation. At the time, convoys of black sedans were seen entering and leaving the hospital grounds.

Jiang, who retired as party chief in 2002 and as president in 2003, has since left the hospital but remains in poor health, said several people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate situation.

His reemergence yesterday was “highly political,’’ Cheng Li, a scholar of elite Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said in an e-mail.

The significance of Jiang’s sudden appearance, Cheng said, was similar to that of the recent publication of four volumes of speeches by Zhu Rongji, who was prime minister under Jiang.

“Retired top leaders apparently want to have more say on the country’s economic policy, political succession, and foreign relations, especially at a time when the Chinese public has become increasingly concerned about the administrative capacity and political unity of the current leadership,’’ Cheng said.

The makeup of the next leadership could pivot in part on struggles between Jiang’s loyalists and those of the current president and party chief, Hu Jintao, over who will join the Politburo Standing Committee, the group at the top of the party hierarchy that governs China by consensus.

There are nine seats on the committee, but that could change.

During yesterday’s ceremony, Hu made an appeal to further relations with Taiwan, saying they should move beyond the history that divides them and focus on common economic and cultural interests.

He said China and Taiwan should “work together to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.’’

Hu has sought to move beyond the threatening rhetoric that long characterized Beijing’s response to Taiwan’s refusal to unify with the mainland. Tensions have also eased as Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, facilitated several trade agreements linking Taiwan’s high-tech economy to China’s markets.

In recent years, Jiang, whose base of support is known as the “Shanghai gang,’’ used his influence to prevent one of Hu’s allies, Li Keqiang, from becoming the consensus choice to succeed Hu.

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