Vice-President Xi Jinping was on Thursday appointed chief of China’s military after a pivotal party congress that saw him become head of the ruling Communist Party, state media reported.
The appointment means outgoing Chinese leader Hu Jintao stands down as chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) – a powerful position that his predecessor Jiang Zemin had clung to for two years after Hu was made president.
Xi will be named national president in March as part of what now appears to be China’s first clean transfer of power for two decades.
In China, the People’s Liberation Army is ruled by the party rather than the state, a legacy of the Chinese government’s revolutionary origins.
On the final day of the week-long 18th party congress on Wednesday, Hu stepped down as general secretary of the party, sparking intense speculation on whether he would cling onto control of the military.
Jiang retained his chairmanship of the CMC when Hu became president in 2003, following a precedent set by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who also failed to hand over control of the military when he relinquished his other titles in 1989.
The decision by Hu suggests he will gain power concessions in other areas of the party when he takes his position as a “party elder” – a result of the opaque bargaining system of power-politics in Beijing, analysts say.
China expert Jonathan Holslag, head of research at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, said Xi already had a good relationship with the military.
“We know that Xi has traditionally maintained close relations with the PLA and that he is keen on strengthening the PLA’s role as a credible global player,” he said.