- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

BEIJING — Hu Jintao became the undisputed leader of China yesterday as the country completed its first orderly transfer of power in the communist era with the departure of former President Jiang Zemin from his top military post.

Mr. Jiang, whose term was to have run until 2007, resigned at a meeting of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee that ended yesterday, giving a new generation of leaders a freer hand to run the world’s most populous nation.

Analysts did not expect Mr. Jiang’s exit to affect Beijing’s stance on relations with the United States or Taiwan, economic reform or other key issues. Mr. Jiang and Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

Mr. Hu, 61, replaced Mr. Jiang as party leader in late 2003 and as president early this year. But Mr. Jiang, 78, 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 hand over of power was conducive to upholding “the party’s absolute leadership over the military,” the official Xinhua News Agency said. It said Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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, stripped down, invites entrepreneurs into the party, redefining communism and daring critics to point out ideological contradictions.

The party spent nearly a decade preparing for the hand over, hoping to avoid the upheavals that have accompanied earlier transfers of power.

China’s communist founder, Mao Tse-tung, picked Hua Guofeng to succeed him on his death in 1976. But Mr. Hua lasted only a few months before being pushed aside by Deng Xiaoping, who went on to launch reforms that fueled China’s two-decade economic boom.

Mr. Deng dismissed his own hand-picked successor, Zhao Ziyang, in 1989 after the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations and a power struggle that nearly tore apart the party.

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