BEIJING, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- President Jiang Zemin handed over the reigns of China's Communist Party to Hu Jintao on Friday as the new Standing Committee of the 24-member Politburo was introduced to the public.
Contrary to official pronouncements that leadership in China is being decided by institutions rather than individuals, this transition to a younger generation is political theatre dominated by form over actual substance.
State-controlled Chinese media reported that Jiang was re-elected chairman of the party's Central Military Commission at the First Plenary Session of the 16th Central Meeting Friday in the Great Hall of the People.
The CMC is the party's link to the highest echelons of the People's Liberation Army, the blanket term for China's army, navy and air force.
At least five of the nine members in the new line up are identified as close Jiang supporters, indicating he will continue to exercise political influence through patron-client relations.
The order of the announced line up is interpreted by China observers as signifying the extent of power each member wields within the Standing Committee.
Jiang's supporters are the new No. 2 in the party hierarchy, Wu Bangguo, as well as men in the fourth to sixth positions (Jia Qinglin, Zeng Qinghong, Huang Ju) and the eighth-ranking member, Li Changchun.
Hu Jintao, aged 59, is general-secretary of the Communist Party's Central Committee, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and president of the Party School of the Central Committee.
Outside of the party, Hu has the position of vice president and is the frontrunner to replace Jiang as president in March when the National People's Congress convenes in Beijing.
Hu was party secretary of Tibet between 1988-1992 and is widely held responsible for the suppression of Tibetans that took place in early 1989.
He was elevated to the standing committee of the Politburo in October 1992 at the 14th Party Congress by the late Deng Xiaoping.
Wu Bangguo, 60, is the second member in the new lineup. He is a member of the "Shanghai Clique," the name given to the pro-Jiang faction within the party.
In addition to joining the standing committee, Wu Bangguo is the vice-premier of the state council, a member of its Leading Party Members' Group, as well as secretary of the Work Committee of Large Enterprises within the Central Committee. This last title puts him at the leading edge of policy efforts to revamp the state-owned enterprise system.
Wen Jiabao, 59, is considered to represent pragmatists' interests within the party's inner ruling circle. He is the leading candidate to replace premier Zhu Rongji when his term expires in March.
Wen has the positions of vice-premier within the state council, membership in the Leading Party Members' Group and secretary of the Financial Work Committee. The latter posting involves reform of China's troubled banking sector.
Jia Qinglin, 62, is possibly the most controversial member of the Standing Committee. Until a month before the Congress, Jia served as party boss for the Beijing Municipality
Jia's wife was implicated in the notorious smuggling ring operating in Xiamen, Fujian province. It was smashed in 1999 only after the country had lost billions of yuan in uncollected tax revenue. Analysts believe that it is only because of Jiang Zemin's protection that neither Jia nor his wife was arrested in the scandal.
The fifth member of the Standing Committee, Zeng Qinghong, 62, is universally considered Jiang's right-hand man and the person to watch as a potential rival to Hu Jintao.
Zeng owes his position to Jiang's patronage rather than his performance in statecraft. In addition to the inner ruling circle of the Politburo, Zeng is a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee.
The Secretariat is an administrative unit responsible for staff support including the preparation of documents for Politburo consideration.
The remaining members of the Standing Committee are: Jiang supporter Huang Ju, 63, the former party secretary of Shanghai; Wu Guanzheng, 63, party secretary of Shandong province; Jiang supporter Li Changchun, 58, party secretary of Guangdong province; and Luo Gan, 66, secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee responsible for state security and a client of conservative leader Li Peng.