A new era has begun in China. But it is not that of Vice-President Hu Jintao, who has taken over the top post in the Communist Party. Rather, it is a new era of President Jiang Zemin, who has just stepped down as the party's general secretary. The official announcement that Mr Jiang would remain as the chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) has assured his status as China's next paramount leader, even though he no longer sits on the Central Committee and has no party posts. The late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping set the precedent by revising the party constitution in 1987, with a new clause saying the CMC chairman would be appointed by the Central Committee. He removed a clause saying the chairman must be a Politburo Standing Committee member. Like Deng, Mr Jiang's retention of the CMC chairmanship is aimed at ensuring a smooth transfer of power and continuity of policies. It will also ensure Mr Jiang's legacy - the implementation of his 'Theory of the Three Representatives' that has been written into the party constitution. This means that Mr Hu and other members of the so-called Fourth Generation leadership will have to defer to Mr Jiang on major policy issues, particularly on foreign relations and Taiwan - issues of which Mr Jiang has ample experience. Another sure sign of Mr Jiang's dominance is that he has packed the Politburo and its Standing Committee with his allies. The previous standing committee's seven members were largely decided by Deng before he died in 1997. Analysts are divided over how long Mr Jiang is likely to stay as CMC chairman. Some, including Wang Zhenxu, a US-based political scientist, expect Mr Jiang to stay until some time after the National People's Congress in March when the shake-up of the government is discussed and approved. Others believe he will stay longer, perhaps a year or two beyond March. Deng handed over the CMC chairmanship to Mr Jiang five months after he became the party general secretary in June 1989. But one thing is clear: Mr Jiang's influence will remain undiminished whether he holds the CMC chairmanship or not.