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Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin met Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz on April 17 in Beijing, a person familiar with the meeting said. Jiang emerged in the capital ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership change later this year.
Details of Schultz’s conversation with Jiang, 85, weren’t immediately available, according to the person, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the event. Schultz also visited Shanghai during his China trip.
Jiang, who led the Communist Party from 1989 to 2002, met with Schultz a week after former Chongqing Communist Party leader Bo Xilai was suspended from the ruling Politburo. Jiang’s presence in Beijing suggests he is taking part in the leadership transition, complicating the succession process in the world’s second-biggest economy, said Victor Shih, a professor who focuses on Chinese finance and politics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
“He has shown the world conclusively that he remains in good health and that he remains part of the equation for the 18th Party Congress,” Shih said in an e-mail. “This will make complete domination by any particular faction difficult, despite recent events.”
Starbucks’s Shanghai-based spokeswoman Wang Xingrong said she had no comment about the visit when reached by phone today. The news office at China’s foreign ministry had no information about the meeting. Sinocism, a blog run by Beijing-based independent analyst Bill Bishop, first reported that Jiang had met with an unidentified U.S. chief executive.
Bo’s ouster from the Politburo came after he was found to have committed as-yet-unspecified “serious discipline violations” and his wife, Gu Kailai, was arrested on suspicion of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood, the official Xinhua News Agency reported April 10.
Retired Chinese leaders have played a role in Chinese politics and policy. Deng Xiaoping, who died in 1997, was the paramount leader during the 1989 Tiananmen student protests even though he was not a Politburo member. Other elderly cadres at the time, including Bo’s father Bo Yibo, also helped make key decisions.
China’s current top leader, Hu Jintao, took over from Jiang as the Communist Party’s general secretary in 2002 and as president the year later. Hu succeeded Jiang as the chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2004, completing the formal succession process.
Jiang has made few public appearances in recent years. He attended ceremonies in Beijing last October marking the 100th anniversary of the 1911 revolution which led to the fall of the last imperial dynasty. That appearance was made three months after Hong Kong’s Asia Television Ltd. reported on July 6 that Jiang had died.
Jiang’s appearance this week is a “well-timed and calculated show of force” ahead of the party congress, Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said in an e-mail. The congress will pick the rulers who may be in charge of the country for the next 10 years.
“Jiang is telling Hu Jintao and other factions that he definitely wants and will have some say in the personnel arrangements in the 18th Congress,” Lam said in the e-mail.
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