HONG KONG -- Jiang Zemin was widely regarded as a lightweight and a transitional figure when he became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 1989, succeeding Zhao Ziyang, who was purged in the wake of the Tiananmen Square uprising. However, he confounded his critics and, four years later, was given the additional titles of head of state and chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, a position he took over from former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

Even so, many still did not take him seriously. Some even regarded him as a buffoon because of his propensity to sing "Love Me Tender" and "Swanee River" at meetings with foreign dignitaries and to show off by quoting Shakespeare or reciting Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

But in the past decade he has shown that he is a consummate politician. He has outmaneuvered all his rivals within the party. He has won acclaim in the way he handled China's main bilateral relationships, in particular that with the United States. And, of course, he has overseen the largely uneventful return of Hong Kong and Macau to the Chinese fold.