Chinese Vice-President Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin's heir apparent, has risen to the elite levels of Chinese politics through skill and a diverse network of political patrons. Hu's political career spans four decades, and he has been associated with China's top leaders, including Song Ping, Hu Yaobang, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. Though marked early as a liberal by his ties to Hu Yaobang, Hu Jintao's conservative credentials were fashioned during the imposition of martial law in Tibet in 1989. Those actions endeared him to the Beijing leadership following the 4 June Tiananmen Square crackdown, and his career accelerated in the 1990s. Young, cautious and talented, Hu catapulted to the Politburo Standing Committee, the vice-presidency and the Central Military Commission. Despite recent media attention, Hu's positions on economic and foreign policy issues remain poorly defined. As the 16th Party Congress approaches, Hu is likely to be preparing to become General Secretary of the Communist Party and a force in world affairs.
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