IN an effort to boost Jiang Zemin's military profile, a Chinese newspaper yesterday portrayed the state President and Communist Party chief as always having been close to the armed forces, even though he never served in the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Mr Jiang took over from senior leader Deng Xiaoping as the head of the Central Military Commission (CMC) in November 1989, making him the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, at least nominally. But his ability to command the loyalty of the PLA in a crisis has never been tested, and many analysts wonder if Mr Jiang will, in fact, control the armed forces in the event of a power struggle after Mr Deng's death. ''I don't have enough time, but if I did have the time, I'd really like to lead a [military] company,'' Mr Jiang told soldiers during a frontier inspection trip, The Liberation Army Daily said in a front page article yesterday. Even before taking up the top post in the military commission, Mr Jiang often went down to the grassroots to inspect the Army, said the article, which had an accompanying picture of the leader dining with soldiers somewhere along China's northeastern frontier. The article said that, just after the war with Vietnam in 1979, Mr Jiang went to see soldiers in southern China. In ice-covered north China, he touched the clothing of a soldier and asked if it was thick enough to keep him warm. In the South China Sea, Mr Jiang insisted on having his picture taken with some soldiers, said the article, which did not specify the dates and circumstances of his pre-1989 inspection tours. The newspaper said that during the past three years, Mr Jiang had made at least one visit a month - and often more - to soldiers in the field, bringing the total of such trips, since he took over as commander-in-chief of the Army, to nearly 100. The article mentioned Mao Zedong and Mr Deng in several places in an apparent attempt to suggest that Mr Jiang was worthy of comparison to the two greatest political and military leaders of modern China. For instance, in 1991, while visiting the First Company of the Red Army set up by Mao, Mr Jiang took a plate once used by the Great Helmsman and said: ''Mao ate in your company, so you must preserve it [the plate] well.'' The article, which focused a lot on food, quoted Mr Jiang as asking an army cook about the price of vegetables, and Mr Deng as having once said: ''Eating is politics. Eating is a military affair.'' ''Two generations of military chairmen, deeply understand one principle: battle power also comes from the rice bowl,'' commented the newspaper. ''Jiang puts the soldiers in his heart. The soldiers put Jiang in their hearts. The heart of the chairman of the CMC is connected with that of the great masses of the Army.'' The article came a day after celebration of the 66th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army. Analysts said Mr Jiang and his supporters were using the occasion as an excuse to raise the President's military profile. ''There's this [military] gap in his public image and they are trying to fill it,'' said one Western analyst.