09/08/2004, 00.00
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Jiang Zemin said to step down: a new beginning for China?

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – In the plenary session of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) scheduled for September 16-19,  Jiang Zemin is said to relinquish his authority as chairman of the Central Military Commission, this according to a report released yesterday by Xinhua news agency. Jiang would transfer military authority to Hu Jintao, China's current president.

In a meeting of the CPC politburo presided by President Hu, the official programme of the upcoming session of the Central Committee has been established. Modernising the party and strengthening its rule are its main thrust.

Quoting an unnamed party source, Xinhua reported that "the international situation is undergoing profound changes and our country's reforms and development are at a critical stage. [. . .] Our party must adapt to the new situation and new tasks".

Although no official statement has been released announcing changes to the programme, many observers are convinced that changes at the top of the Central Military Commission will push aside all other issues. Foreign media have in fact been speculating for some time over Jiang's possible retirement from the top military post. The New York Times reported that Jiang was prepared to do so but it was not yet clear whether he would do so on his own initiative and whether it would occur in next week's plenary session of the Central Committee. Other unnamed sources claim that Jiang might be calculating that he would be either asked to stay on or be offered another influential post.

President Hu Jintao has been party chairman since 2003 and is currently vice-chairman of the central Military Commission. Should Jiang Zemin step down in his favour, Hu would become the country's undisputed ruler, commanding state, army and ruling party.

For some analysts, this could represent a new beginning for China. Hu could adopt an agenda more open to reforms and possibly less truculent in managing domestic issues like relations with Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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