Analysis: China's mission impossible - a date for Hu's military handover

Mon Nov 5, 2012 12:53am EST
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By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) - Outgoing Chinese president Hu Jintao is keeping the nation and the rest of the world guessing over whether he will seek to hang on as armed forces chief, sources said, highlighting a potentially serious weakness in Beijing's succession planning.

The question of when Hu will hand over the reins as chairman of the Central Military Commission, the supreme decision-making body for the armed forces, is one of the biggest uncertainties surrounding China's current transition to a new administration.

Hu currently heads the Communist Party, the government and the military and is due to hand over all three positions to Xi, his current vice president, though not at the same time. He hands over the party job this month, the presidency next March and there is no clear timing for when the military post changes hands.

With the new political leadership just days away from being officially unveiled at a party congress, this underlines how the process of handing over all the instruments of power is still evolving in China, which has nuclear arms and boasts a 2.3 million-strong military.

Currently the world's second-biggest economy, it has managed a bloodless leadership transition only once before -- when Jiang Zemin handed power to Hu in the early 2000's.

Even sources with ties to the leadership and military are divided over whether, or for how long, Hu will linger as their boss, though they said that top generals had asked him recently to stay on at least until early 2013.

"The PLA wants Hu to stay on to ensure continuity during this difficult period," one source said, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions for discussing sensitive leadership issues.

The top brass made the request to Hu a few months ago, hopeful perhaps that his continued leadership of the armed forces would help preserve their own influence during a tricky transition period, the sources said.   Continued...

Chinese President Hu Jintao attends a military parade during his visit to an airbase in Hong Kong in this June 29, 2012 file photo, two days before the 15th anniversary of the territory's handover to Chinese sovereignty from British rule. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/Files