China's Hu Takes Army Reins ; Former President Jiang Zemin Resigned His Post as Head of Military Sunday

Article excerpt

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 June.

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. …