US embassy cable - 99HONGKONG8575 (redacted version)

PROMINENT HK JOURNALIST: CHINA'S ARMY WANTS A FIGHT, HU JINTAO'S FUTURE MURKY (redacted 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 unredacted 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 XXXXXXXXXXXX
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, XXXXXXXXXXXX SAID, HAD
CONSEQUENTLY JUDGED HU UNWORTHY OF SUCCEEDING HIM AS
CHINA´S TOP LEADER. XXXXXXXXXXXX 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 XXXXXXXXXXXX´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. XXXXXXXXXXXX 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 XXXXXXXXXXXX
PROVIDED SOME DETAIL LACKING IN XXXXXXXXXXXX´S RECENT REPORTING
ON CHINESE POLITICS. WHEN ASKED ABOUT RECENT PRESS
REPORTS OF HIGH-RANKING PLA OFFICERS SPYING FOR
TAIWAN, XXXXXXXXXXXX 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 XXXXXXXXXXXX´S SOURCES, THE
ARMY MIGHT ATTACK ONE OF THE TAIWAN-HELD ISLANDS IN
THE TAIWAN STRAIT THEN WITHDRAW. XXXXXXXXXXXX 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, XXXXXXXXXXXX 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. XXXXXXXXXXXX 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) XXXXXXXXXXXX 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. XXXXXXXXXXXX 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 XXXXXXXXXXXX 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," XXXXXXXXXXXX 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 XXXXXXXXXXXX´S UNPROMPTED
ASSERTIONS, HE SAID THAT JIANG ZEMIN WAS A BUDDHIST,
THOUGH AN "UNORTHODOX" ONE. XXXXXXXXXXXX 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 XXXXXXXXXXXX WAS
DESCRIBING WHAT HE SEES AS JIANG´S POTENTIAL
VULNERABILITY IN THE PARTY´S ONGOING CRACKDOWN ON
SPIRITUAL PRACTICES. END COMMENT.)

6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX ALSO STATED UNEQUIVOCALLY, BEFORE WRITING
ABOUT RUMORS TO THE CONTRARY, THAT PROPAGANDA CHIEF
DING GUANGEN WOULD STAY IN HIS POST. XXXXXXXXXXXX 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 XXXXXXXXXXXX,
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, XXXXXXXXXXXX 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 XXXXXXXXXXXX´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 XXXXXXXXXXXX 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, XXXXXXXXXXXX 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,
XXXXXXXXXXXX -- ECHOED XXXXXXXXXXXX´S
RECENTLY PUBLISHED STORIES ABOUT PREMIER ZHU RONGJI´S
DECLINING POWER. XXXXXXXXXXXX SAID HE HAD EVEN HEARD NEW RUMORS
THAT ZHU MAY STEP DOWN AFTER THE OCTOBER 1 NATIONAL
DAY CELEBRATIONS. XXXXXXXXXXXX ATTRIBUTED ZHU´S SUPPOSED FALL
TO HIS "TOO SOFT" APPROACH IN DEALING WITH THE
FALUNGONG MOVEMENT. POLOFFS SUSPECT THAT XXXXXXXXXXXX´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 XXXXXXXXXXXX´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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