Xi Jinping hails Jiang Zemin as leader who stood up to West after Tiananmen

Xi Jinping: Xi Jinping praised Jiang, who took power right after Chinese troops crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

President Xi Jinping praised Jiang Zemin as a leader who led China’s boom despite Western pressure and domestic turmoil after the Tiananmen crackdown, using his predecessor’s memorial service to bolster his own assertive agenda.

Xi credited Jiang, who took power right after Chinese troops crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989, with carrying out the Communist Party’s “correct decision” to resolve what he described only as a “severe political disturbance.” While Xi’s remarks Tuesday reiterated the party’s view on the incident, it also served as warning in light of protests that have sprung up in recent weeks to challenge Xi’s Covid Zero policies.

“Some Western countries imposed so-called sanctions against China, posing unprecedented difficulties and pressure for the development of China’s socialism,” Xi recounted for party leaders assembled in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, draped with black instead of the usual red.

“At this critical historical juncture that determined the future and destiny of the party and state, comrade Jiang relied on the central collective leadership of the CPC and firmly relied on the full party, entire military, and the Chinese people of all ethnic groups to unswervingly take economic development as the central task,” Xi said, wearing a black suit with a white flower on his lapel.

The memorial for Jiang comes at challenging time for Xi, with his government facing calls at home and from abroad to loosen virus restrictions that have stifled daily life and hurt the economy. The protests against the policies were the most widespread China has seen since 1989, and during at least one event in Shanghai last month demonstrators called for Xi and the party to step down.

Jiang, who led the country from 1989 to 2002, oversaw China’s global reemergence during the 1990s and paved the way for its pivotal entry into the World Trade Organization. While he sought to convey openness and accessibility and played down China’s gathering military might, Xi has led the country toward a more confident, assertive stance.

Xi’s speech Tuesday highlighted echoes of his own agenda in Jiang’s legacy, from challenging “separatist” forces to “fighting corruption.” He also credited Jiang with pushing for a “multipolar world,” echoing Xi’s view of the US as a declining hegemon that must let China play a bigger role.