As the Hu Jintao era enters its final year, Chinese elites have started to review his administration, revealing that many observers share a profound sense of disappointment. Hu Jintao has been criticized for his “inaction” (wuwei)—a frequently-used term in both Chinese blogs and daily conversations in the country. Some prominent Chinese public intellectuals have openly called the two five-year terms of the Hu leadership “the lost decade.” Recent Chinese nostalgia for retired leaders—particularly evident in Jiang Zemin’s extensively-publicized appearance last October and the public’s rush to buy Zhu Rongji’s recently-published work—further illustrate Hu’s unpopularity.
Increasingly negative sentiment about Hu Jintao and his tenure cannot be attributed to the fact that, as the outgoing General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Hu has become a “lame duck.” Though similar on the surface to a U.S. president who is in the final year of the second term, the “lame-duck” notion bears almost no relevance to Chinese politics. In China, outgoing senior leaders will retain tremendous power until the very end, able to make choosing their successors and/or blocking some candidates the final act of their official tenure.
This is China stepping out of the shadows to play a more assertive role and to use its increasing leverage globally to get what it wants.