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China's Jiang Zemin Steps Down from Military Post, Completing Transfer of Power  - 2004-09-19

China's former President Jiang Zemin has retired from his post as chairman of the powerful central military commission, completing the transfer of power to President Hu Jintao.

The news that Jiang Zemin had handed over the top post of the military commission to Hu Jintao followed weeks of speculation that Mr. Hu's supporters in the Communist Party leadership were pressuring Mr. Jiang to step aside.

Signs of a widening split between Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu had appeared weeks before, including a published photograph of President Hu with the late leader Deng Xiaoping, with the image of Jiang Zemin washed out.

The official news agency, Xinhua, put out the news that Mr. Jiang's resignation from his job of 13 years had been approved by Communist Party leaders meeting at their annual plenum, which concluded Sunday.

Analysts say Jiang Zemin's resignation came as his popularity waned and Hu Jintao's rose, even among the military, as the new president worked to solidify his agenda.

Professor Cheng Li, who teaches government at Hamilton College in the United States and has written a book on China's new generation of leaders says Mr. Hu and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao did much to win support during their first year by working quickly, and dealing with the plight of impoverished farmers and others who have not benefited from China's economic boom.

"First, they did really aggressively to deal with SARS, and [gained] popularity," he said. "Then they launched economic program, [that] was not only economic but with social political implications."

Some in China resent what they see as an ultra-capitalist society associated with Jiang Zemin's vision. During his time in office, Mr. Jiang worked to promote fast economic growth, especially in Shanghai and other industrialized areas of China's east coast.

The transfer of power happened after weeks of reportedly intense bargaining between Mr. Jiang's supporters and backers of Mr. Hu. They say the aim was avoiding an all-out power struggle seen in Chinese politics in the past.

Politics professor Joseph Cheng at the City University of Hong Kong says Mr. Jiang is jockeying to retain some influence by lobbying Mr. Hu to name his supporters to influential posts.

"The new leaders certainly want to exploit their powers of appointments to ensure they have a solid base of support, and at the same time Jiang Zemin would like to again exercise his influence to ensure that his protégés will get all the important positions," said Professor Cheng.

As part of his maneuvers to consolidate power, Mr. Hu has sought to reassure Jiang supporters that he will maintain stability and the Communist party's 55-year monopoly on power. Last week, he appeared on state television and ruled out any possibility that China would enact a western-style democratic system.