Sunday's departure of Jiang Zemin as head of China's military was
a surprise, though rumors of a power struggle with current president
Hu Jintao circled Beijing for weeks.
The vote to accept Mr. Jiang's resignation on the last day of a
bi-yearly communist party plenum is likely to relieve some of the
bitter infighting between Jiang and Hu factions that has thwarted
decision making in the world's most populous nation, analysts say.
Jiang, who oversaw China's rapid economic development in the past
decade, including the acceptance of capitalists in the communist
party, was China's top ruler until 2002 - when he gave up his post
to President Hu in a reshuffle designed to usher in a "fourth
generation" of leaders. Yet Jiang, still regarded as the most
powerful politician in China, had retained a firm grip on the
Central Military Commission. From this position, he initiated a
major modernizing of China's military, wielded authority on the most
sensitive policies on Taiwan and North Korea, and met foreign
officials such as US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice last
A number of prominent American scholars argue that Jiang's half-
in, half-out official status over the past two years has caused
confusion and a "paralysis of policy," as Richard Baum of UCLA puts
it, at upper echelons of power in Beijing. The emotional issue of
Taiwan, for example, was made "more dangerous and uncertain" in Mr.
Baum's view, due to a "lack of flexibility" among top leaders.
"As long as Jiang is in power, Hu is scrutinized and can't make
mistakes. China's policy is much more tentative, and questions like
Taiwan are held captive," says Mr. Baum.
Jiang had been identified with a policy of aggressive growth, a
strong military, and improved US ties. Hu and Prime Minister Wen
Jiabao, expressing concern with income disparities, have carved out
a position as friends of ordinary Chinese, and have so far looked
more to Europe than the US.
The shakeup "should loosen up the system and allow for more
experimentation," says David Zweig, a professor at the Hong Kong
University of Science and Technology.
A 45-minute report last evening on state TV had all the symbolic
trappings of a farewell to Jiang. Hu will take over the military
post to ensure "the party's absolute leadership over the military."
Hu's biography and achievements were detailed. In unusually
emotional rhetoric, Jiang's resignation letter stated he "always
wanted to resign," but that he stayed on because the party asked him
to out of concern "for the international situation at that time."
Yet Jiang's departure may in fact increase his influence, though
this remains unclear. …