Hu Jintao's appointment as the new General Secretary
of the CCP was no surprise. Though the media reported
that little was known about Mr Hu's past, at least one
part of his life is well documented: The period
between 1988 and 1992 when the "core leader of the
Forth Generation" was Tibet's party secretary. A
closer look at the way Mr Hu used his post in Tibet as
a stepping stone to reach the top, is indeed
Mr Hu's political career really started when he joined
the Young Cadre Course at the Party School in Beijing
in 1981. It is here that he met Hu Yaobang, then
General Secretary of the CCP who became one of his
first mentors. The elder Hu was certainly one of the
most remarkable leaders of modern China and a great
reformer. Remember his funeral ceremonies after his
sudden death during a Politburo meeting in April 1989,
triggered the Tiananmen student revolt!
When the elder Hu tried to introduce reforms in China
in the early 1980s, he was violently opposed by some
of his colleagues in the Politburo. During this
period, it appears that the younger Hu defended him.
But, the mid-80s saw a new wind blowing in Beijing. As
Hu Yaobang progressively lost to the most conservative
elements led by Mr Li Peng and Mr Qiao Shi, Mr Hu
Jintao was quick to realign himself, primarily with Mr
Qiao Shi, in charge of internal security, who became
the younger Hu's new mentor.
But let us come back for a moment to Hu Yaobang.
During a visit in Tibet in 1980, he was so shocked to
see the suffering of the Tibetan people that he
publicly admitted that the party "has let the Tibetan
people down. The life of the Tibetan people has not
been notably improved" after the Chinese invasion. As
a result of his determination to implement a more
lenient Tibet policy, the elder Hu invited the Dalai
Lama to send fact finding delegations to Tibet and
negotiating teams to Beijing. Unfortunately, due to
the changes in Beijing, everything came to a sudden
halt in 1985. Two years later, the situation took a
turn for the worse when some monks demonstrated
against the Chinese rule in Lhasa. As hundreds of
visitors and media persons were present in the
capital, images of the repression which followed were
flashed the world over.
While in Beijing, Mr Hu Yaobang was replaced by Mr
Zhao Ziyang; Mr Wu Jinghua, the elder Hu's protege,
lost his job as party secretary in Lhasa. It is
probably when Mr Qiao Shi visited Tibet in July 1988
that the decision was taken to appoint Mr Hu Jintao as
the new Tibet chief. It was to be the crucial turn in
the younger Hu's career; he knew he could not afford
to fail in his task. Had not Mr Qiao threatened of
"merciless repression" if the demonstrations were not
immediately stopped? A Hong Kong paper Kuang Chiao
Ching wrote then: "If he rules Tibet successfully,
perhaps the question on everyone's mind in the near
future could be: Will Hu Jintao become a superstar on
China's political stage?"
On January 19, 1989, a few days after his takeover, Mr
Hu informed the army about "the CCP Central
Committee's new instructions on work in Tibet."
Involvement of the PLA in Tibet's internal affairs was
ominous. A week later he defined his strategy of
"grasping with both hands". A Beijing newspaper
reported about the tasks for the two hands: "To
safeguard the unification of the motherland and
stabilise the situation in Tibet", and "to continue to
carry out economic construction". From that day,
events moved very fast. On January 23, accompanied by
the Panchen Lama, Mr Hu visited the Tashilhunpo
monastery. During the function, the Panchen Lama
denounced the party's role in Tibet: "Although there
had been developments in Tibet since its liberation,
this development had cost more dearly than its
achievements". Four days later, he passed away in
mysterious circumstances. The Lama's death cleared the
stage for the "merciless repression".
When a demonstration erupted on March 5, the Armed
Police (PAP) quickly took control of the situation. A
Chinese journalist, Tang Daxian, who had access to
party documents, wrote later in The Observer that the
order had come from Beijing to unleash the repression.
His information was that on March 6 alone, 387
Tibetans were massacred around the Central Cathedral
in Lhasa. The next day, Mr Hu declared that "the PAP
following the instructions of the Central Committee
(read Qiao Shi) had maintained the unity of the
Motherland". Martial Law was clamped down on March 8.
The tragic events in Lhasa seem to have been a
rehearsal for another episode 3 months later: The
student rebellion on Tiananmen Square.
Mr Hu's ruthless implementation of his bosses' orders
proved that he was a leader that could be relied on.
Mr Jiang Zemin who replaced Mr Zhao Ziyang after the
massacre on the square, remembered it. Mr Hu was to
stay for 4 more years in Tibet to further "stabilise"
the situation by targeting the Tibetan cadres
"harbouring separatist thoughts" and introducing
political education in the monasteries. Now that Mr Hu
has reached the top, will he continue to "grasp China
with two hands"? In other words will he use force
again as his Elders did, or will he choose the path of
Hu Yaobang and open up the system? Only the future
will tell us, but both have risks.