BEIJING (AP) — Hu Jintao became the undisputed leader of
China as the country completed its first orderly transfer of power
in the communist era yesterday with the departure of former
President Jiang Zemin from his top military post — giving a
new generation a freer hand to run the world’s most populous
nation.

Jiang, whose term was to have run until 2007, resigned at a
meeting of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee
that ended yesterday.

Analysts did not expect Jiang’s exit to affect
Beijing’s stance on relations with the United States or
Taiwan, economic reform or other key issues. Jiang and Hu are not
known to have had any major policy disagreements and both support
continued capitalist-style reforms and one-party communist
rule.

But the consolidation of the top party, government and military
posts in Hu’s hands will allow him and his premier, Wen
Jiabao, to act more decisively as the government copes with
challenges such as wrenching economic changes and rural
poverty.

Hu, 61, replaced Jiang as party leader in late 2002 and as
president early this year. But the 78-year-old Jiang, who led China
for 13 years, retained influence by holding onto his military post
even as all his contemporaries retired in a long-planned handover
of power to younger leaders.

“This is a good, positive step because it finally
completes the systemic change,” said Sin-ming Shaw, a China
specialist at Oxford University’s Oriel College. “To
have someone as chairman of the party and not control the guns is
very awkward. This will definitely make things easier.”

A statement by the 198-member Central Committee said the
handover of power was conducive to upholding “the
party’s absolute leadership over the military,” the
official Xinhua News Agency said. It said Jiang’s resignation
showed “his broad-mindedness as a true communist.”

State television devoted its entire evening newscast to the
transfer of power, extending the half-hour program by 15
minutes.

An anchor read from Jiang’s resignation letter, dated
Sept. 1, saying he had “always looked forward to complete
retirement from leading positions for the good of the long-term
development of the cause of the party and the people.”

There was no immediate indication why Jiang chose to cut short
his term. But it might suggest that he felt he had succeeded in
ensuring his political legacy — especially the addition of
the pro-capitalist “Three Represents” ideology that he
championed to the party’s constitution — and the
interests of his family and allies.

The ideology invites entrepreneurs into the party, redefines
communism and dares critics to point out ideological
contradictions.

Jiang said in his resignation letter that he decided to leave
the Central Military Commission after “meticulous
consideration.” He said Hu was “absolutely qualified
for this post.”

State television showed Hu and Jiang walking side-by-side in the
cavernous Great Hall of the People in central Beijing, greeted by
thunderous applause from the Central Committee members as they
posed for photos. Dressed in a dark suit and red tie, Jiang shook
hands and waved to the officials.

“I am so happy to see all of you today,” Jiang said.
He called for the party to “work hard and keep advancing
under the leadership of the party Central Committee with Comrade Hu
Jintao.”

Xu Caihou, 61, will succeed Hu as deputy chairman of the
military commission, Xinhua said.

That was a surprise choice, because many had expected Vice
President Zeng Qinghong — a former Jiang aide and protege
— to become deputy leader of the commission. It wasn’t
clear whether Jiang had lobbied for Zeng and whether the choice
reflected a personal setback.

The 2.5 million-member People’s Liberation Army is the
world’s largest military.

In a society where Mao declared that “power flows from the
barrel of a gun,” the chairmanship of the military commission
was the second-most powerful post for a Chinese leader, after the
job of party general secretary. The presidency, though
high-profile, came a distant third, with few formal powers.

Pressure had been building within the party for Jiang to hand
over the military post, consolidating power under a single leader,
said Andrew Nathan, a specialist on Chinese politics at Columbia
University.

It was “displeasing to most members of the Chinese
leadership including the military, because it created ‘two
headquarters,’“ Nathan said.

“It was a potential problem and a situation that, under
People’s Republic of China traditions, is not normal,”
he said. “Sooner or later it had to be done away
with.”

Joseph Cheng, director of the Contemporary China Research Center
at the City University of Hong Kong, said Jiang has “no cause
to complain” about his legacy.

“His so called ‘Three Represents’ theory has
been entered into the state constitution and the party charter.
Most of his proteges have been given very important
appointments,” Cheng said. “Basically he has more or
less what a departing leader can hope to achieve.”

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