Jiang Zemin vows to take a backseat

FORMER Chinese president Jiang Zemin has been moved down the top leadership’s pecking order – at least in public - as the ruling Communist Party prepares for the final stages of a generational handover in power.

The official Xinhua news agency said Mr Jiang asked party leaders to group him with other retired elders when introduced at major formal events. Mr Jiang used to be second to current president Hu Jintao in the protocol at major events, reflecting his status as former president.

Xinhua praised Mr Jiang’s request as “reflecting the noble character and sterling integrity and open-mindedness of a Communist”.

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The announcement comes as the party lays the groundwork for the final phase of its leadership transition this spring, when vice-president Xi Jinping will become president and other senior officials will be appointed to top positions. Mr Xi succeeded Mr Hu as party leader in November at a pivotal congress, in a transition that had been planned years earlier.

Analysts said Mr Jiang’s move has symbolic significance, but it remained unclear whether he would relinquish his behind-the-scenes influence.

“In terms of the symbolism, this is a step forward to mitigate and guard against geriatric politics: the old men interfering, retired old cadres who have no position still having a big say in party affairs,” said Willy Lam, a China politics expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“But on a practical level, it’s difficult to prevent Jiang Zemin from still trying to do whatever he can to interfere in party affairs,” Mr Lam added.

“In the Chinese context, tradition dies hard and you have a long record of retired party elders still interfering in party politics.”