For the first time, the name of former president Jiang Zemin has been officially placed behind those of members of the Communist Party's current Politburo Standing Committee, prompting speculation that he is set to withdraw from the political stage.
At the funeral service for General Yang Baibing , who died at the age of 93 in Beijing last Tuesday, the wreath placed in Jiang's name came behind that of President Hu Jintao , party general secretary Xi Jinping and the other members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China Central Television reported on its main 7pm newscast yesterday.
It was the first time that Jiang's name had been placed behind that of Politburo Standing Committee members other than the party's general secretary since he retired as general secretary at the party's 16th national congress in 2002 and stood down from his last official post as chairman of the party's Central Military Commission in late 2004.
Despite speculation that Jiang would fully retire after the closing of the party's 18th national congress in mid-November, Jiang's name appeared behind Hu and Xi but ahead of National People's Congress chairman Wu Bangguo and Premier Wen Jiabao at the funeral of Bishop Ding Guangxun on November 27, Xinhua reported earlier.
Even after he stepped down as CMC chairman, Jiang was still ranked No2, behind only Hu, and wielded strong political influence within the party.
Jiang, who is 86 years old, was believed to have played a key role in the framing of the new leadership line-up for the party's 18th national congress, succeeding in getting allies including Zhang Dejiang , Yu Zhengsheng and Zhang Gaoli on to the Politburo Standing Committee.
With the latest ranking suggesting that Jiang will finally retire from politics, attention has now moved on to whether Hu will follow suit and give up his entitlement to the No 2 rank after his full retirement in March from his last post as state president. Hu broke the precedent established by Jiang when he stepped down from the helm of both the party and the CMC in November.
Beijing-based independent political analyst Chen Ziming said he believed Hu was unlikely to be ranked No2 after his retirement, making way for Xi to rule the country. Chen also said, however, that time would tell whether Jiang was willing to give up his political influence.
"Jiang can still exert his power, even if he has no ranking in the top leadership," Chen said.
Hong Kong-based veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the ranking did not necessarily mean that Jiang would play no role in Chinese politics from now on.
"On the contrary, I think that his political influence will extend for quite a while at least," Lau said.