ANALYSIS: Retired Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao Emerges Online in Rare Appearance, Sparking Political Speculation

Former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who has been retired for many years, recently made a rare appearance, appearing on the internet in a joint photo with his wife and former superior Zhu Xun along with Mr. Zhu's spouse.Mr. Zhu is a former Minister of Geology and Mining.Current affairs analysts suspect Mr. Wen's online appearance was not done with his consent but was required by the top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which has multiple meanings.Mr. Wen, now 81, stepped down as premier in March 2013 and made his most recent public appearance in late 2022 when he attended the funeral of former CCP dictator Jiang Zemin.After former party chief Hu Jintao came to power, Jiang interfered in Mr. Hu's political affairs on public and private occasions, effectively hollowing out Mr. Hu's power.Since the current CCP leader, Xi Jinping, came to power in 2012, the influence of the political seniors on the current regime has gradually reduced. They rarely appear in public unless they are attending major official events. Therefore, when they do appear, it is usually interpreted as a political signal or a sign of a change in political direction.Related StoriesIn an interview with The Epoch Times, U.S.-based current affairs analyst Lan Shu said that Mr. Wen may have gotten Mr. Xi's approval for his appearance."Right now, Xi Jinping has to deal with very complicated economic issues, and at the same time, he is facing both domestic and international pressure, so he has to compromise with different factions within the party," Mr. Lan said."There is a group of people within the CCP who have different views on Xi's current economic policies, but this disagreement does not rise to the level of an internal struggle because, basically, no one in the top echelons of the CCP is capable of engaging in an internal power struggle with Xi Jinping."Multiple MeaningsU.S.-based current affairs commentator Chen Pokong told The Epoch Times on Dec. 23 that he believes Mr. Weno's appearance was not out of his own accord, nor was he able to plan a public appearance on his own."I therefore believe that Xi Jinping needed Wen to make an appearance this time around," he said.According to Mr. Chen, Mr. Wen's appearance has multiple meanings.First, Mr. Xi is trying to appease and curry favor with the party elders.Mr. Chen said that the relationship between Mr. Xi and the party elders has completely broken down, as he forced Mr. Hu out of the 20th National Congress, and former Chinese premier Li Keqiang's suspicious death resulted in the party elders being absent from Mr. Li's farewell ceremony. Chinese leader Xi Jinping (R) watches as former leader Hu Jintao (C) touches the shoulder of Premier Li Keqiang (2nd L) as he leaves the closing ceremony of the 20th Chinese Communist Party's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 22, 2022. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)Since Mr. Wen does not belong to any faction, it may be in Mr. Xi's favor to put him in the limelight.He believes Mr. Xi orchestrated Mr. Wen's public appearance to mitigate tensions between various political factions.Secondly, Mr. Xi is trying to curry favor with the reformists. Mr. Chen pointed out that the CCP is now facing economic difficulties and suffering from a complete failure in domestic affairs and foreign relations.“This year is being touted as the ‘45th anniversary of reform and opening up,’ and the Xi administration is pretending that it wants to carry out reform and opening up to attract foreign investment and business," Mr. Chen said."However, foreign investors and companies generally believe that the CCP has no credibility and lack confidence in Xi's regime. Therefore, he arranged to have Wen Jiabao come out as a way to please the reformists, and at the same time, he is also showing goodwill to the international community and to the people."The third and more important reason is the recent hearsay that Liu He, the Vice Premier, has been arrested. The news of Mr. Liu's supposed arrest has spread widely, but the authorities have not dispelled it as rumor, and Mr. Liu has not shown up.Mr. Chen believes that Mr. Wen's appearance at this time may also be an attempt by the authorities to divert people’s attention from the Liu incident.“I think Wen Jiabao's recent public appearance is mainly an effort by the current ruler to use his influence, as Wen represents a reformist and veteran politician. Therefore, the effect of this incident is relatively small and can be regarded as a temporary strategy. It doesn't suggest any significant long-term actions,” Mr. Chen said.Wen’s Situation DifferentAfter Mr. Wen left office, Li Keqiang succeeded him as China’s premier until March of this year. After Mr. Li left office, he seldom made public appearances. In late August, he appeared in the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, which was his first public appearance after leaving office.Videos and photos circulating online showed that Mr. Li was smiling a

ANALYSIS: Retired Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao Emerges Online in Rare Appearance, Sparking Political Speculation

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Former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who has been retired for many years, recently made a rare appearance, appearing on the internet in a joint photo with his wife and former superior Zhu Xun along with Mr. Zhu's spouse.

Mr. Zhu is a former Minister of Geology and Mining.

Current affairs analysts suspect Mr. Wen's online appearance was not done with his consent but was required by the top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which has multiple meanings.

Mr. Wen, now 81, stepped down as premier in March 2013 and made his most recent public appearance in late 2022 when he attended the funeral of former CCP dictator Jiang Zemin.

After former party chief Hu Jintao came to power, Jiang interfered in Mr. Hu's political affairs on public and private occasions, effectively hollowing out Mr. Hu's power.

Since the current CCP leader, Xi Jinping, came to power in 2012, the influence of the political seniors on the current regime has gradually reduced. They rarely appear in public unless they are attending major official events. Therefore, when they do appear, it is usually interpreted as a political signal or a sign of a change in political direction.

In an interview with The Epoch Times, U.S.-based current affairs analyst Lan Shu said that Mr. Wen may have gotten Mr. Xi's approval for his appearance.

"Right now, Xi Jinping has to deal with very complicated economic issues, and at the same time, he is facing both domestic and international pressure, so he has to compromise with different factions within the party," Mr. Lan said.

"There is a group of people within the CCP who have different views on Xi's current economic policies, but this disagreement does not rise to the level of an internal struggle because, basically, no one in the top echelons of the CCP is capable of engaging in an internal power struggle with Xi Jinping."

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Multiple Meanings

U.S.-based current affairs commentator Chen Pokong told The Epoch Times on Dec. 23 that he believes Mr. Weno's appearance was not out of his own accord, nor was he able to plan a public appearance on his own.

"I therefore believe that Xi Jinping needed Wen to make an appearance this time around," he said.

According to Mr. Chen, Mr. Wen's appearance has multiple meanings.

First, Mr. Xi is trying to appease and curry favor with the party elders.

Mr. Chen said that the relationship between Mr. Xi and the party elders has completely broken down, as he forced Mr. Hu out of the 20th National Congress, and former Chinese premier Li Keqiang's suspicious death resulted in the party elders being absent from Mr. Li's farewell ceremony.

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 Chinese leader Xi Jinping (R) watches as former leader Hu Jintao (C) touches the shoulder of Premier Li Keqiang (2nd L) as he leaves the closing ceremony of the 20th Chinese Communist Party's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 22, 2022. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)
Chinese leader Xi Jinping (R) watches as former leader Hu Jintao (C) touches the shoulder of Premier Li Keqiang (2nd L) as he leaves the closing ceremony of the 20th Chinese Communist Party's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 22, 2022. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)

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Since Mr. Wen does not belong to any faction, it may be in Mr. Xi's favor to put him in the limelight.

He believes Mr. Xi orchestrated Mr. Wen's public appearance to mitigate tensions between various political factions.

Secondly, Mr. Xi is trying to curry favor with the reformists. Mr. Chen pointed out that the CCP is now facing economic difficulties and suffering from a complete failure in domestic affairs and foreign relations.

“This year is being touted as the ‘45th anniversary of reform and opening up,’ and the Xi administration is pretending that it wants to carry out reform and opening up to attract foreign investment and business," Mr. Chen said.

"However, foreign investors and companies generally believe that the CCP has no credibility and lack confidence in Xi's regime. Therefore, he arranged to have Wen Jiabao come out as a way to please the reformists, and at the same time, he is also showing goodwill to the international community and to the people."

The third and more important reason is the recent hearsay that Liu He, the Vice Premier, has been arrested. The news of Mr. Liu's supposed arrest has spread widely, but the authorities have not dispelled it as rumor, and Mr. Liu has not shown up.

Mr. Chen believes that Mr. Wen's appearance at this time may also be an attempt by the authorities to divert people’s attention from the Liu incident.

“I think Wen Jiabao's recent public appearance is mainly an effort by the current ruler to use his influence, as Wen represents a reformist and veteran politician. Therefore, the effect of this incident is relatively small and can be regarded as a temporary strategy. It doesn't suggest any significant long-term actions,” Mr. Chen said.

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Wen’s Situation Different

After Mr. Wen left office, Li Keqiang succeeded him as China’s premier until March of this year. After Mr. Li left office, he seldom made public appearances. In late August, he appeared in the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, which was his first public appearance after leaving office.

Videos and photos circulating online showed that Mr. Li was smiling and waving to the crowd, looking healthy and in good spirits. However, on Oct. 27, news broke that he had died of a sudden heart attack in Shanghai.

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 A man places flowers in front of the former house of former Chinese premier Li Keqiang in Dingyuan County, Chuzhou City, in China's eastern Anhui Province on Oct. 27, 2023. (Rebecca Bailey/AFP via Getty Images)
A man places flowers in front of the former house of former Chinese premier Li Keqiang in Dingyuan County, Chuzhou City, in China's eastern Anhui Province on Oct. 27, 2023. (Rebecca Bailey/AFP via Getty Images)

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Mr. Li's sudden death made headlines around the world and ignited public discontent in China. Discussions about the cause of his death and the rescue process continued to circulate on the internet, with many questioning that he might have been murdered by those who disliked him.

Some have asked if Mr. Wen's high-profile appearance put him in a similar situation as Li Keqiang.

According to Lan Shu, Mr. Xi should have known about Mr. Wen's public appearance beforehand, so he thinks it will not bring him any trouble.

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 Former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (C) walks past former Chinese leader Hu Jintao (L) and the current leader Xi Jinping (R) at the closing session of the rubber-stamp legislature’s congress in Beijing, China on March 17, 2013. (Feng Li/Getty Images)
Former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (C) walks past former Chinese leader Hu Jintao (L) and the current leader Xi Jinping (R) at the closing session of the rubber-stamp legislature’s congress in Beijing, China on March 17, 2013. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

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Mr. Chen also said that Mr. Li's situation completely differs from Mr. Wen's.

He said that Mr. Li's visit to Dunhuang has several background elements: firstly, Mr. Xi was on a foreign trip to South Africa; secondly, during the Beidaihe Conference, some political elders expressed dissatisfaction with Mr. Xi, which would have certainly angered him.

“The photos and videos of Li Keqiang's visit to Dunhuang were posted on the internet, causing a sensation. The public still had hope in Li Keqiang, making Xi Jinping think that Li Keqiang was a threat to him, and he wanted to dispel the people's expectations," Mr. Chen said.

"But Wen Jiabao's situation is completely different," he said.

"Wen Jiabao has been retired for many years, and he does not have the popularity or the expectations of Li Keqiang in the public or in the party. I don't think Wen Jiabao's appearance was his own initiative, it was totally passive, it was a political necessity of Xi Jinping's administration. So I don't think Wen Jiabao's appearance will disadvantage him."

Xin Ning contributed to this report.