19 September 2004

Hu takes over Jiang as China's military chief

Hu Jintao succeeded Jiang Zemin as chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the Fourth Plenum of the 16th CPC Central Committee, which concluded here Sunday.

The four-day plenum approved Hu to take over the CMC chairmanship after accepting Jiang's resignation.

The plenum also approved Xu Caihou, 61, as CMC vice-chairman.

Hu, 61, is also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee and president of China. He was vice-chairman of the CMC previously.

Jiang, 78, had held the CPC's top military position since November 1989.

Jiang, after serving as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee for 13 years, bowed out of the Party Central Committee at the 16th CPC National Congress held in Beijing in November 2002. He went on to relinquish the state presidency he had held for 10 years at the annual full session of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, in March 2003. Hu took over both positions.

"The plenum unanimously agreed that this (Hu's becoming CMC chairman) is conducive to upholding the fundamental principle and system of the Party's absolute leadership over the military, and is also conducive to the strengthening of the military's revolutionization, modernization and regularization process," said a communique released after the closing of the plenum.

The communique also noted that the plenum had "highly evaluatedComrade Jiang Zemin's outstanding contributions to the Party, the state and the people."

This may be less important than it sounds. Deng Xiaoping famously ruled China from the exalted post of chair of the China Bridge Association. The Cultural Revolution was launched by a literary controversy over the play Hai Rui dismissed from office.

This one started with Hu declaring the seaside resort of Beidaihe, traditional scene for inner party meetings, as off-limits. Jiang then met there with several members of his Shanghai faction. It was widely assumed that Jiang would win and retain control of the central military commission and command of the armed forces. Instead, Jiang has retired. the Asia Times said on 20 August:

When China's Xinhua news agency published an adulatory report of a conference at the seaside resort of Beidaihe on August 5, [1] I was puzzled. Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao had banned these meetings as a waste of money and time - they were boondoggles. And China's media (at least the press that wasn't totally in the control of the Central Propaganda Department) praised President Hu's policy as a "populist measure in support of good government" (qinmin qinglian).

Now, it is true that Hu is in a weak position. He is heavily outnumbered in the Politburo of the party Central Committee by disciples of China's strongman, Central Military Commission chairman Jiang Zemin (who was also Hu's predecessor as president and party boss). But certainly Hu should be given due deference. He is, after all, the titular chief of the party and the government.

Which is why I was bemused that there was a report of any kind of meeting at Beidaihe, a famous resort and annual leadership retreat on the Bohai Gulf, 280 kilometers east of Beijing. I recalled that as a result of Hu's proscription, most governmental and party organizations, central and political, had shied away from Beidaihe. Just to confirm my recollection, I went to the People's Daily Net (www.peopledaily.com.cn) and pasted "Cancel Beidaihe to handle affairs" (quxiao Beidaihe bangong) into the search engine. Sure enough, a string of stories from the summer of 2003 popped out. In September, for example, there was an entire issue of the China Economic Review [2] devoted to the hard times at Beidaihe due to the government vacation ban. The article's big question: "Would China's 'Summer Capital' become history?"

It will be months before we can tell if this is a real retirement or just a formal transfer of power. Broadly, Hu is more reformist than Jiang and a real transfer would be a good thing.

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