Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin dies

International Desk Published: 30 November 2022, 04:52 PM
Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin dies
Jiang Zemin was China’s president and Communist Party chief from 1989 to 2002. Photo: AFP via South China Morning Post

Jiang Zemin, China’s former president who oversaw the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, died on Wednesday in Shanghai, state media reported. He was 96.

Jiang’s absence from the 20th Communist Party congress in October, as well as the party’s centenary celebrations last year, were read as clear signs of his failing health.

He died of leukaemia and multi-organ failure at 12.13pm on Wednesday, according to state news agency Xinhua.

President Xi Jinping will lead the 688-member committee in charge of his funeral arrangements. Its other members include former president Hu Jintao and former premier Zhu Rongji.

Following the announcement of his death, all flags at locations such as Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the liaison offices in Hong Kong and Macau and all overseas Chinese embassies were lowered to half-mast until after the funeral. No further details of the commemorative events have been provided.

“Following convention, no foreign governments, political parties or delegations will be invited to attend events in China to pay tribute,” the first official notice published by the funeral committee said.

Funeral halls will also be set up at Chinese embassies and consulates-general for people overseas to pay tribute.

Jiang was last seen in public on October 1, 2019, taking his place among party elders invited to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and a military parade to mark the occasion.

Jiang, who served as the party’s general secretary from 1989 to 2002, was the first top leader not to have fought in Mao Zedong’s Communist revolution, which culminated in the creation of the People’s Republic following victory in the civil war in 1949.

Jiang was Shanghai party chief when he was given the party’s top job in June 1989, with Beijing in crisis mode after supreme leader Deng Xiaoping ordered a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy student protesters in Tiananmen Square, and a far-reaching purge inside the government and state targeting sympathisers of the failed movement.

Jiang’s promotion came as the West turned its back on China over its violent handling of the demonstration, often labelled the Tiananmen crackdown.

But subsequent years saw him preside over some of China’s most symbolic moments, marking the country’s further integration with the US-led global system and gaining higher status as a world power.

These included the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, when the city returned to Chinese sovereignty from British colonial rule, and China formally becoming a WTO member in 2001.

It was also in 2001, under Jiang’s watch, that Beijing secured host nation status for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Jiang stepped down voluntarily party chief in 2002 to hand over the helm to Hu, with China bearing witness to the first peaceful and orderly power transition in the party since 1949. He stepped down as head of the military in 2004.

Jiang is remembered by many as a charismatic and confident figure, which made him stand out among other stiff and often inscrutable Chinese leaders.

At age 71, he made headlines for swimming and playing the ukulele in Hawaii, and trying out his skills at singing Peking opera, during a state visit to the US in 1997.

In a contentious interview conducted by 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace in 2000, Jiang tackled questions on controversial issues including the 

Tiananmen crackdown of 1989, the spying case involving Taiwanese American scientist Wen Ho Lee, and tensions across the Taiwan Strait, switching with ease between Chinese and English.

Source: South China Morning Post