Chinese succession sealed with army post

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The Independent Online

Former President Jiang Zemin gave up the top job in China's military yesterday, handing over his last post to the Communist Party chief, Hu Jintao, to complete the leadership transition to a younger generation.

Former President Jiang Zemin gave up the top job in China's military yesterday, handing over his last post to the Communist Party chief, Hu Jintao, to complete the leadership transition to a younger generation.

The Central Committee accepted the resignation of Mr Jiang, 78, on the final day of a four-day closed-door plenum and approved Mr Hu's rise to chairman of the Central Military Commission. Mr Hu, 61, who replaced Mr Jiang as party chief in 2002 and as president in 2003, now holds the three most powerful positions in China, completing out the first orderly succession in Chinese Communist history. "The Hu Jintao era has started," a Chinese analyst said.

In a sign that Mr Jiang's influence is waning, his closest political ally, Vice-President Zeng Qinghong, did not join the military commission. Xu Caihou, 61, took the post of vice-chairman, the state Xinhua news agency said.

Mr Hu will now have the tricky task of juggling the demands of the 2.5-million-strong People's Liberation Army for a bigger budget.

Mr Jiang's departure is unlikely to result in dramatic changes to domestic, foreign and economic policies, with Mr Hu expected to pursue the market-friendly reforms that have made China the world's seventh-largest economy.

Rivalry between Mr Hu and his predecessor had emerged subtly in recent weeks, but analysts said the rivalry had not developed into a full-blown power struggle because both saw stability as indispensable to sustaining the economic growth needed to maintain stability among China's 1.3 billion people.

Sources close to Mr Jiang's family said he was in poor health. He has had a heart problem since 1989.

In his resignation letter, Mr Jiang said he had retired in hopes that his departure would standardise future generational changes. After the plenum, he smiled and shook hands with Mr Hu and other delegates to sustained applause.

Mr Jiang had not been due to retire from his final post until 2007 but came under pressure to follow in the footsteps of late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, who stepped down from the top military job two years after quitting the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee. He, however, wielded power behind the scenes for years.

Mr Jiang does not have the same influence. "When the tree falls, the monkeys scatter," said Lin Chong-pin, a former Taiwan vice-defence minister, quoting a Chinese saying. (Reuters)

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