US embassy cable - 99HONGKONG8575 (original version)

PROMINENT HK JOURNALIST: CHINA'S ARMY WANTS A FIGHT, HU JINTAO'S FUTURE MURKY (original version)

Identifier: 99HONGKONG8575
Wikileaks: View 99HONGKONG8575 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Hong Kong
Created: 1999-09-24 10:01:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL CH HK TW US PINR
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
R 241001Z SEP 99
FM AMCONSUL HONG KONG
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 0535
INFO AMEMBASSY BEIJING 
AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 
AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 
AMCONSUL SHENYANG 
AIT TAIPEI 5225
AMEMBASSY TOKYO 
AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE 
AMEMBASSY LONDON 
AMCONSUL CHENGDU
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HONG KONG 008575 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL:09/24/09 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, CH, HK, TW, US, PINR 
SUBJECT:  PROMINENT HK JOURNALIST: CHINA'S ARMY WANTS 
A FIGHT, HU JINTAO'S FUTURE MURKY 
 
(U)  CLASSIFIED BY E/P CHIEF LISA KUBISKE.  REASON 1.5 
(B). 
 
SUMMARY 
------- 
1.  (C) LONG-TIME CHINA REPORTER WILLY WO-LAP LAM 
RECENTLY DESCRIBED AN INSULAR CHINESE MILITARY 
LEADERSHIP THAT INCREASINGLY HAS LOOKED TO LIMITED 
ARMED CONFLICT WITH TAIWAN AS A MEANS TO RESTORING THE 
ARMY'S PRESTIGE.  HE ADDED THAT VICE PRESIDENT HU 
JINTAO WAS OUT OF FAVOR WITH PRESIDENT JIANG ZEMIN 
BECAUSE OF HIS POOR HANDLING OF THE ACCIDENTAL BOMBING 
OF THE CHINESE EMBASSY IN BELGRADE AND BY HAVING A 
RELATIONSHIP WITH A YOUNG WOMAN.  JIANG, LAM SAID, HAD 
CONSEQUENTLY JUDGED HU UNWORTHY OF SUCCEEDING HIM AS 
CHINA'S TOP LEADER.  LAM ALSO ASSERTED THAT JIANG 
ZEMIN HAS PROTECTED THE CAREER OF DING GUANGEN AND 
OTHER FORMER MEMBERS OF DENG XIAOPING'S OFFICE IN THE 
HOPE OF ENJOYING SIMILAR TREATMENT FOR JIANG'S 
PROTEGES FOLLOWING HIS DEPARTURE.  THE DISCUSSION ALSO 
SHED SOME LIGHT ON LAM'S ADMITTEDLY SPOTTY TRACK 
RECORD READING THE TEA LEAVES IN BEIJING.  HE NOTED 
THAT HIS SOURCES AT TIMES HAVE FED HIM STORIES 
DESIGNED TO SPIN MORE THAN INFORM.  LAM COMPLAINED, 
MOREOVER, OF HIS INABILITY TO CONFIRM OR DENY A STORY 
WITH BEIJING AUTHORITIES BEFORE GOING TO PRESS.  END 
SUMMARY. 
 
3.  (C) A FREE-WHEELING LUNCH DISCUSSION ON SEPTEMBER 
14 WITH WILLY WO-LAP LAM OF HONG KONG'S LEADING 
ENGLISH LANGUAGE DAILY, THE SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, 
PROVIDED SOME DETAIL LACKING IN LAM'S RECENT REPORTING 
ON CHINESE POLITICS.  WHEN ASKED ABOUT RECENT PRESS 
REPORTS OF HIGH-RANKING PLA OFFICERS SPYING FOR 
TAIWAN, LAM SAID HIS SOURCES HAVE TOLD HIM MANY 
OFFICERS INCREASINGLY HAVE SEEN SOME FORM OF LIMITED 
MILITARY ACTION AGAINST TAIWAN AS AN ATTRACTIVE 
SOLUTION TO THE ARMY'S SEEMINGLY ENDLESS STREAM OF 
PUBLIC HUMILIATION.  ACCORDING TO LAM'S SOURCES, THE 
ARMY MIGHT ATTACK ONE OF THE TAIWAN-HELD ISLANDS IN 
THE TAIWAN STRAIT THEN WITHDRAW.  LAM SAYS OFFICERS 
WHO FAVOR SUCH ACTION HAVE SAID AN ATTACK WOULD 
RESTORE THE ARMY'S TARNISHED IMAGE AND LEGITIMACY, 
YIELD INCREASED MILITARY FUNDING, AND LEAD TO 
PROMOTIONS FOR OFFICERS WHO HAVE NOT SEEN COMBAT SINCE 
THE BORDER SKIRMISHES WITH VIETNAM IN THE 1980S.  WHEN 
POLOFFS REMARKED THAT ANY SUCH MOVE WOULD BE 
DISASTROUS FOR CHINA, LAM SAID THAT HIS CONTACTS HAVE 
TOLD HIM THAT MANY OFFICERS FROM THE TOP TO THE BOTTOM 
OF THE CHAIN OF COMMAND WERE ILL-INFORMED ABOUT 
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AND EITHER DID NOT UNDERSTAND OR 
DID NOT CARE ABOUT THE FOREIGN POLICY OR ECONOMIC 
IMPLICATIONS OF THEIR ACTIONS.  LAM SAID, HOWEVER, 
THAT THE ARMY COULD NOT DECIDE TO GO TO WAR WITHOUT 
CIVILIAN APROVAL.  IN ANY EVENT, HE SAID, CHINA WOULD 
NOT ATTACK IF TAIWAN PRESIDENT LEE TENG-HUI'S 
SUCCESSOR IN ELECTIONS NEXT MARCH TOOK A LOW-KEY 
APPROACH TO LEE'S "TWO STATES THEORY"; A RETRACTION 
WOULD NOT BE NECESSARY.  THE ARMY WOULD BE WATCHING 
AND WAITING UNTIL THEN. 
 
LEADERSHIP TIDBITS 
------------------ 
 
4.  (C) LAM FREQUENTLY PEPPERED THE CONVERSATION WITH 
INFORMATION HE HAS KEPT OUT OF PRINT.  FOR EXAMPLE, HE 
DECLARED WITHOUT PROMPTING THAT VICE PRESIDENT HU 
JINTAO HAD SCANDALIZED JIANG ZEMIN BY CARRYING ON A 
RELATIONSHIP WITH A CHINESE CENTRAL TELEVISION NEWS 
ANCHORWOMAN IN HER TWENTIES -- YOUNGER THAN HU'S OWN 
DAUGHTER.  LAM CITED THIS AS AN EXAMPLE OF WHY JIANG 
HAD DECIDED THAT HU "DEFINITELY" WOULD NOT SUCCEED HIM 
AS THE "CORE" OF THE NEXT GENERATION OF CHINESE 
LEADERS.  HE ADDED WITHOUT ELABORATION THAT, BASED ON 
HU'S HANDLING OF THE ACCIDENTAL BOMBING OF CHINA'S 
BELGRADE EMBASSY, JIANG NOW BELIEVED THE VICE 
PRESIDENT WAS TOO WEAK TO SUCCEED HIM.  THUS, JIANG 
WOULD STAY ON FOR ANOTHER TERM, OR STEP DOWN BUT 
REMAIN IN CONTROL WITH PLIANT FIGUREHEADS HOLDING THE 
FORMAL LEADERSHIP POSITIONS.  (COMMENT: THIS LINE 
PROVIDED A TIDY WAY FOR LAM TO COVER HIMSELF WHEN HU 
WAS NAMED CENTRAL MILITARY COMMISSION VICE CHAIRMAN ON 
SEPTEMBER 22.  END COMMENT.)  IN PRINT THE NEXT DAY, 
THIS TIME CITING A "DIPLOMATIC SOURCE," LAM BRIEFLY 
REFERRED TO A SCANDAL INVOLVING AN UNNAMED "FOURTH 
GENERATION LEADER" AND HIS TELEVISION NEWSCASTER 
MISTRESS BUT LEFT OUT THE REST OF THE DETAILS. 
 
5.  (C) AS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF LAM'S UNPROMPTED 
ASSERTIONS, HE SAID THAT JIANG ZEMIN WAS A BUDDHIST, 
THOUGH AN "UNORTHODOX" ONE.  LAM CLAIMED ONE OF HIS 
BEIJING SOURCES TOLD HIM THAT LAST LUNAR NEW YEAR 
JIANG GOT UP AT THREE IN THE MORNING AND DROVE TWO 
HOURS OUT OF BEIJING TO ATTEND A BUDDHIST CEREMONY AT 
AN UNNAMED TEMPLE.  HE ADDED THAT JIANG WENT TO VISIT 
DAOIST SAGES AT "WUDAN MOUNTAIN" FOLLOWING THE 
ACCIDENTAL BOMBING IN BELGRADE AND SPENT AN HOUR 
DISCUSSING "MATTERS OF STATE" WITH A DAOIST PRIEST. 
(COMMENT: THOUGH HE DID NOT SAY SO, PERHAPS LAM WAS 
DESCRIBING WHAT HE SEES AS JIANG'S POTENTIAL 
VULNERABILITY IN THE PARTY'S ONGOING CRACKDOWN ON 
SPIRITUAL PRACTICES.  END COMMENT.) 
 
6.  (C) LAM ALSO STATED UNEQUIVOCALLY, BEFORE WRITING 
ABOUT RUMORS TO THE CONTRARY, THAT PROPAGANDA CHIEF 
DING GUANGEN WOULD STAY IN HIS POST.  LAM SAID HIS 
SOURCES MADE CLEAR THAT DING WAS HATED "BY EVERYONE" 
IN BEIJING BUT THAT JIANG WOULD PROTECT DING ON THE 
ADVICE OF HIS MENTOR WANG DAOHAN.  ACCORDING TO LAM, 
WANG WARNED THAT DING -- LIKE CMC MEMBER WANG RUILIN - 
- WAS CONSIDERED ONE OF DENG XIAOPING'S STAFF AND 
THEREFORE MUST BE PROTECTED IF JIANG WANTED THE SAME 
CONSIDERATION TO BE GIVEN TO HIS PROTEGES ONCE HE 
RETIRES. 
 
UNRELIABLE SOURCES 
------------------ 
 
7.  (C) IN ANSWERING POLOFFS' QUESTIONS ABOUT 
DEADLINES AND PRESS TIMES IN HONG KONG, LAM COMMENTED 
THAT HIS STORIES DON'T PAN OUT AT TIMES BECAUSE HIS 
SOURCES SOMETIMES FLOAT STORIES AS TRIAL BALLOONS OR 
TO SATISFY SOME OTHER AGENDA.  GIVEN LAM'S TIGHT 
DEADLINE AND HIS INABILITY TO CONTACT CHINESE 
OFFICIALS DIRECTLY TO CONFIRM STORIES, HE SAID HE CAN 
BE WRONG SOMETIMES. 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
8.  (C) POLOFFS FOUND LAM TO BE A CAGEY BUT TALKATIVE 
INTERLOCUTOR WHO APPEARS GENUINE IN HIS DESIRE TO TELL 
A GOOD NEWS STORY; HIS IS NO "DRUDGE REPORT."  BUT HIS 
REPORTING DOES NOT APPEAR TO MEET U.S. JOURNALISTIC 
STANDARDS OF SOURCING EITHER, AND SHOULD BE READ WITH 
THAT IN MIND.  MOREOVER, LAM REPORTS FROM A PLACE 
WHERE STORIES CAN TAKE ON A LIFE OF THEIR OWN, AND 
WHERE IT CAN BE HARD TO DISTINGUISH CORROBORATION FROM 
REPETITION OF THE SAME RUMOR OR OUTRIGHT SPIN.  FOR 
EXAMPLE, IN A SEPARATE MEETING LAST WEEK WITH POLOFF, 
LI LIANSHENG, A RESEARCH FELLOW AT HONG KONG'S XINHUA 
NEWS AGENCY -- AND APPARENT "BARBARIAN HANDLER" FOR 
XINHUA HONG KONG CHIEF JIANG ENZHU -- ECHOED LAM'S 
RECENTLY PUBLISHED STORIES ABOUT PREMIER ZHU RONGJI'S 
DECLINING POWER.  LI SAID HE HAD EVEN HEARD NEW RUMORS 
THAT ZHU MAY STEP DOWN AFTER THE OCTOBER 1 NATIONAL 
DAY CELEBRATIONS.  LI ATTRIBUTED ZHU'S SUPPOSED FALL 
TO HIS "TOO SOFT" APPROACH IN DEALING WITH THE 
FALUNGONG MOVEMENT.  POLOFFS SUSPECT THAT LI'S LINE 
WAS INTENDED TO BOLSTER HIS PLEAS FOR THE UNITED 
STATES TO "DO MORE" TO HELP IMPROVE SINO-U.S. 
RELATIONS -- LIKE DEEMPHASIZING CHINA'S HUMAN RIGHTS 
RECORD -- LEST REFORMERS LIKE ZHU PAY THE PRICE FOR 
APPEARING WEAK IN DEALING WITH THE UNITED STATES. 
SOME OF LAM'S BEIJING SOURCES MAY HAVE TOLD HIM 
SIMILAR STORIES ABOUT ZHU AND HU JINTAO TO FURTHER THE 
SAME AGENDA.  END COMMENT. 
 
KLOSSON 

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