A Smooth Transition
Jiang Zemin passes on the baton of military power to his former deputy
By TANG QINGHUA
For many Chinese, the news came as no big surprise when the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee accepted the resignation of Jiang Zemin, 78, from the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission (CMC) on the final day of a four-day plenum. The reins were handed to Hu Jintao, 61, completing a smooth power transition to a younger generation of Chinese military leadership.
The change means Hu now serves in his own triumvirate as Party chief, state president and military head as Jiang retires from his last formal position of power.
“It is to be expected,” said a civil servant in Beijing, who declined to be named, as Jiang himself took over the military job from his predecessor, the late paramount Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, at the Fifth Plenum of the 13th CPC Central Committee 15 years ago.
Deng stepped down from the military post two years after quitting the all-powerful Political Bureau at the 13th CPC National Congress in 1987, while Jiang held onto his military post after quitting the Party’s top post of the Central Committee at the 16th CPC National Congress in November 2002, and stepped down from the state presidency months later.
Hu succeeded Jiang as Party chief in late 2002 and as president in early 2003. He had been a vice chairman of the commanding CMC since 1999.
Jiang Bows Out
The handover of the military job on September 19 came after mounting speculation that Jiang may have taken the escalating cross-strait tensions as an opportunity to stay on.
But that didn’t happen. Though no official reason for his quitting was available, Jiang, who had not been due to retire completely until 2007, said in a resignation letter dated September 1, that he “intended to resign from the current post, which is good for the development of the undertakings of the Party, the state and the armed forces.”
Jiang told the Party Central Committee he had decided to retire from Party and government positions hoping to “institutionalize, standardize, and proceduralize” generational transfers of power for state and Party leadership.
He also explained later while attending an enlarged meeting of the CMC that for a large party like the CPC and a large country like China, “it is not only necessary, but also the most appropriate option to adopt a three-in-one leadership system under which Party general secretary, state president and CMC chairman is the same person.”
Jiang proposed in his resignation letter that Hu succeed him as CMC chairman, saying Hu “is completely qualified for the post,” the same words Deng said to him 15 years ago.
Jiang made a wise choice to step down and recommend Hu to succeed him, which is conducive to consolidating China’s political stability, cementing the CPC’s governing capability and enhancing democracy inside the CPC, said an editorial in Hong Kong-based Ming Pao.
Under the 13-year leadership of Jiang, China achieved sustained and high economic growth, basic internal stability and smooth opening up, noted the editorial, crediting Jiang for his “good performance” as a national leader.
The communiqué of the plenum released by the official Xinhua News Agency also said Jiang had “grasped the development trends of new military reforms in the world with his great insight” and had enriched the military ideology of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping to “found the Jiang Zemin thought for national defense and military development.”
“Giving up his position for the future of China’s political system, replacing the old with the new is good advancement,” said a comment on BBS of sina.com.
In a newscast televised by the state-run China Central Television, Jiang, accompanied by Hu who addressed him as “our respected Comrade Jiang Zemin,” met with all those present at the plenum after the session.
Jiang first thanked the Party Central Committee for accepting his resignation as CMC chairman, and then extended “heartfelt gratitude” to all comrades of the Party for their support during his tenure. Flushed with emotion, Jiang spoke, in his words: “from the bottom of my heart.”
“I hope that everyone will work hard and keep advancing under the leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Hu Jintao as general secretary,” said Jiang.
Hu then thanked Jiang for his “emotional and important speech,” and paid “supreme respect” to him on behalf of all plenum delegates. The two shook hands amid an outburst of thunderous and prolonged applause while posing for photos.
Jiang further expressed his strong support for Hu while the two attended an enlarged CMC meeting after the closing of the plenum. He praised the 61-year-old Hu as a “young and energetic” leader with “rich leadership experience” and “excellent qualifications.”
Hu Steps Forward
Along with Jiang’s departure from his last post, Hu now became the undisputed leader of China. “The Hu Jintao era has started,” said a Chinese political analyst who asked not to be identified.
Most Chinese have faith in Hu. Seizing opportunity from crisis during the outbreak of SARS last year, Hu emerged from his first real test after declaring war on the epidemic. With decisiveness that surprised many, Hu ended a government cover-up, ordered honest reporting and sacked the health minister and the Beijing mayor.
Hu has built his popularity and charmed the nation with a refreshing people-first style. “Use power for the people, show concern for the people and seek benefit for the people,” said Hu in speeches.
Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao now appear to be guiding the world’s most populous nation and Asia’s fastest growing economy to a soft landing.
On the diplomatic front, Hu has built on new-found respect for Beijing after bringing Washington and Pyongyang to the negotiating table to defuse the Korean nuclear crisis.
But Hu’s succession was unlikely to result in dramatic changes to domestic, foreign and economic policies, as he sets to pursue the market reforms that have transformed China into the world’s seventh largest economy, analysts said.
The plenum communiqué reinforced expectations that the former hydraulic engineer would not stray from Jiang’s tough stand on using force to recover Taiwan if the island formally declares independence.
The Party “resolutely opposes and will contain ‘Taiwan independence’ splittist forces and unswervingly safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it said.
The plenum also noted that maintaining long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macao is a brand-new subject in the Party’s governance of the country under new circumstances.
It called for adherence to the principles of “one country, two systems,” “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong,” “Macao people governing Macao” and a high degree of autonomy, strict observance of the basic laws of the special administrative regions, and continuous progress in implementing the cause of “one country, two systems.”
Military Committee Expanded
During the adjustment made by the plenum, Xu Caihou, 61, will succeed Hu as vice chairman of the military commission, Xinhua said.
Chen Bingde, Qiao Qingchen, Zhang Dingfa and Jing Zhiyuan, senior officers from the military, air, naval and artillery forces, respectively, were promoted to be members of the CMC.
Observers believe such an adjustment is made to adapt to the international situation changes and joint-force operations.
At the enlarged CMC meeting, both Jiang and Hu, wearing green military uniforms, called for unity in the military.
“If the military is internally united, and the military and the people are united, there is no difficulty that cannot be overcome,” Jiang said.
Jiang, though “happy for having completed his historical duty and fulfilled his historical responsibility,” was still concerned about the country’s sovereignty and security, as well as the military development.
“Even though I have stepped down, my heart will always be with the military,” he said.