[Editorial] Hu as military chief

Watching Hu Jintao take over from Jiang Zemin as chairman of China`s Central Military Commission, his third hat after party general secretary and state president, two things come to our mind. The concentration of power in Beijing could somehow lead China to more active participation in regional security affairs, such as the North Korean nuclear problem, while a more assertive stance could be expected in its relations with neighbors, already expressed in the current controversy over the history of the ancient Goguryeo dynasty.

Words from Beijing`s leadership now with more consolidated power will have greater weight on Pyongyang officials as China pushes a multilateral process to solve the nuclear issue involving its neighbor and long time ally. The North has rejected the next round of talks in Beijing scheduled for later this month but it would be discourteous for them to shun further invitation.

The power transition through the fourth plenum of the 16th Central Committee looked notably orderly, indicating irreversible evolution of the political mechanism in China. For the first time in Chinese Communist history, succession was made without the purge of a rival.

On the final day of its four-day closed-door session, the Central Committee "accepted the resignation" of Jiang, who still had three more years to complete his tenure. The whole process is still somewhat hazy and there was a hint of pressure on the old leader from the younger elite for an early departure, but it looks like a transparent leadership contest within the party may not be too far away. In the key party meeting, Hu stressed introducing internal elections to make the party`s working more fair and open.

Hu`s power consolidation was further evidenced by the naming of Xu Caihou, a 61-year-old People`s Liberation Army political chief, as the vice chairman of the military commission, instead of Jiang`s closest ally, Vice President Zeng Qinghong. Still, China watchers predict Hu will have to maintain Jiang`s hardline policy against Taiwan`s "independence" moves in order to fasten his grip on the military.

In the long run, however, the fourth generation Chinese leadership will have to seek a more pragmatic way in tackling the Taiwan question. Yet, President Chen Shui-bian of Taipei should restrain his aggressive stance toward the mainland and never try to test the will of the Beijing leadership. The Central Committee`s communique warned mildly but unequivocally that "the party will contain `Taiwan independence` separatist forces and unswervingly safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity." President Roh Moo-hyun will probably have chances to meet Hu when he attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Santiago and the ASEAN Plus Three summit in Vientiane in November. Their conversations, we hope, will extend beyond the controversy over Goguryeo history, for which Hu is known to be personally responsible, and explore ways to promote economic and security cooperation.

(Korea Herald 2004-9-21)