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Likely 'two more years' on military panel for Hu

Publication Date : 26-10-2012


In China, the chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) is the commander-in-chief who controls the country's 2.3 million-strong armed forces.

So it is rather ironical that the succession process for this powerful post is not specified in the State Constitution or in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Constitution.

Instead, succession is decided by the whims of top leaders and the political circumstances at the time a transfer of power is due.

This uncertainty is one of the sources of instability within the CCP and leads to surprises whenever the military commission's succession issue comes up.

When Vice-President Xi Jinping vanished from public view for about two weeks last month, it set off wild rumours about his health and led some analysts to speculate that the CCP's 18th party congress - where he is expected to take over from President Hu Jintao - could be delayed.

His unexplained disappearance was apparently linked to the CMC post, says an informed source.

At the Beidaihe retreat in July, when Chinese leaders as well as party elders gathered to discuss the candidates for the top party posts, it was reported that President Hu Jintao had expressed his desire to relinquish all his three top posts - party secretary, CMC chairman and state president - simultaneously.

In return for Hu's complete retirement, incoming Premier Li Keqiang, his ally, would be named vice-chairman of the CMC.

The Chinese call this a "dual succession" model, meaning that military power would be split between Xi and Li. But such a power-sharing arrangement is unprecedented and would greatly dilute Xi's authority.

Many saw this precondition as Hu's way of preserving his influence after his retirement.

Others saw it also as a tactical move. By agreeing to retire completely, Hu got to impose the power-sharing condition.

As Xi could not accept such a condition, he had no choice but to agree to Hu remaining as CMC chairman for a while longer.

It was a tough choice that Xi needed time to weigh up, hence his mysterious disappearance.

A source who had direct access to his siblings told The Straits Times that the Xi family dismissed the rumours about his health and said he was perfectly fine. The source said that the only plausible reason for the disappearance was related to the 18th party congress.

At the end of last month, former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee Hwa said in a CNN interview that Hu would remain as CMC chairman "for some time".

The same source concluded that during his absence from public view, Xi must have conceded to Hu staying on as CMC head in return for Li's exclusion from the CMC.

In other words, Xi much preferred to have Hu heading the CMC for two more years, instead of having to share power with Li in the CMC for the next 10 years.

This "two more years" arrangement for the top CMC post began during Deng Xiaoping's time.

In 1987, he gave up all party posts except the CMC chair. This allowed Deng, only an ordinary party member, to override then CCP chief Zhao Ziyang and order troops to crack down on demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Deng gave up the post after that to Jiang Zemin, then the CCP chief and state President.

But a precedent had already been set.

At the 16th party congress in 2002, when Jiang was due to retire from his top posts, several military leaders moved a "special motion" to extend his tenure as CMC head by another two years.

The move caught everyone by surprise, not least his successor, Hu, who had no choice but to let it pass.

Similarly, this time round, the dual-succession condition left Xi with no choice but to agree to another two years for Hu.

This shows that 35 years after Mao Zedong's death in 1976, China's power succession problem is, at best, only partially resolved. Reform has yet to reach the topmost position.

Apart from Hu, who is expected to stay on as chairman, six members of the 11-member CMC are due to retire next month and will need to be replaced.

An ad hoc group has been set up to decide on the new CMC members. It is said that the group consists of Jiang, Hu, Xi as well as current CMC vice-chairmen Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou. Jiang remains an influential figure because half of the current CMC members owe their present positions to him.

The new CMC, like the current one, will have two vice-chairmen and eight members comprising the Defence Minister, the heads of the four major departments - Staff, Political, Logistic and Armament - as well as the commanders of the navy, air force and missile force.


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