Former China president Jiang Zemin dies, aged 96

Former China president Jiang Zemin dies, aged 96

Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin has died aged 96, leaving a legacy that includes him leading his country out of diplomatic isolation following the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Mr Jiang died of leukaemia and multiple organ failure in Shanghai, state TV and the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday.

A longstanding Communist Party devotee, Mr Jiang took the top office from 1989 to 2002 and was instrumental in economic reforms that led to large-scale growth.

He was the surprise choice to take over from Zhao Ziyang following the Tiananmen Square disaster that saw at least 300 massacred in student-led protests against the government.

Jiang Zemin meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin (REUTERS)
Jiang Zemin meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin (REUTERS)

During Mr Jiang’s tenure, China opened up trade to the outside and became a less secretive state - joining the World Trade Organisation in 2001. He also oversaw the return of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule in 1997 and helped Beijing secure the 2008 Olympics.

However, his administration jailed human rights, labour and pro-democracy activists and banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which the ruling party saw as a threat to its monopoly on power.

Mr Jiang gave up his last official title in 2004 but remained a force behind the scenes in the wrangling that led to the rise of current president Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012.

Pakistan prime minister Shehbaz Sharif was among the first to pay tribute.

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He tweeted: “I extend my profound condolences on the sad demise of former President of China, Jiang Zemin.

“The late President was a wise leader and a statesman. In Pakistan, we fondly remember him as a great friend who made valuable contributions in strengthening Pakistan-China relations.”

Portly and owlish in oversize glasses, Mr Jiang was an ebullient figure who played the piano and enjoyed singing, in contrast to his more reserved successors.

He was born into a middle-class family in 1926 and worked in various jobs, culminating in his time as mayor of Shanghai from 1985-89.

He spoke enthusiastic, if halting English and would recite the Gettysburg Address for foreign visitors. On a visit to Britain, he tried to coax Queen Elizabeth II into singing karaoke.

Mr Jiang had faded from public sight and last appeared publicly alongside current and former leaders atop Beijing's Tiananmen Gate at a 2019 military parade celebrating the party's 70th anniversary in power.

He is well-known for his mantra of “stability above all else”.