Monday, 12 November 2012

Hu Steps Aside

Hu (left) will retire, but Jiang (right) continues his power plays
Outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao seems to be signalling he's ready for retirement.

That's because he will formally give up his position as military chief at the end of the 18th party congress this week, sources say.

Many are surprised by this decision, as they had expected he would follow former President Jiang Zemin in holding power for another two years as head of the Central Military Commission.

Nevertheless this is good news, as it gives incoming leader Xi Jinping a fresh slate to start from, unlike Hu, who did not take over the military until 2004, making it a messy transition and let people wondering who really was in charge.

At the time Jiang's decision to hold on to power was unpopular and was criticized within and outside the party.

And so while many assumed Hu would do the same, there may be several reasons why he has opted to relinquish his powerful title now.

It could be that Hu has lost out in the backroom politicking thanks to Jiang's manoeuvres in promoting Xi instead of Hu's choice of Li Keqiang, as well as the new lineup in the powerful Politburo Standing Committee. Maybe Hu also feels it's better to leave on a high note than be associated with what may happen afterwards.

Some say that Hu, 70, is just tired and wants a break. "I don't think Hu is really competent to be a supreme leader, but back then he had little choice as he was hand-picked by party elders to take up the demanding job," said Zhang Li fan, a Beijing-based historian.

"Hu may have been fed up with the seemingly endless intrigue and power struggle and just wanted to ensure a safe landing for himself."

"[Unlike Jiang], Hu has never been a very ambitious leader who aggressively promotes personal agenda," added Chen Ziming, a Beijing-based political observer.

Chen suggests that perhaps Hu is signalling with his complete retirement that other party elders should do the same.

"I think the implied message behind his move is loud and clear: he will fully retire and so should other party leaders of his generation, and particularly Jiang and other party elders who constantly try to wield their influence long after their retirement."

While there is more intra-party democracy, it's making the job of the president and premier harder because there are an increasing number of party elders watching over their shoulders, each with their own agendas.

But with Hu wanting to make a clean break, perhaps Xi will have a better chance of ruling China with a more uniform vision.

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