China reshuffles military but no hint of succession

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BEIJING, Oct 22 (Reuters) China reshuffled its top military body today, reappointing President Hu Jintao as chairman but elevating no other civilian -- a sign that the country's leadership succession remains up in the air.

The Communist Party's elite 204-member Central Committee gave Hu a second five-year term as chairman of the Central Military Commission at a one-day plenum following the Party's 17th five-yearly Congress at which Hu consolidated power.

But neither of the two new faces who were catapulted into the Party leadership as likely successors to Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao joined the crucial military body, thus leaving open who will replace Hu as the supreme leader.

People's Liberation Army generals Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou were reappointed vice-chairmen of the powerful commission.

Xu was also promoted to the Party's 25-member decision-making Politburo, replacing Cao Gangchuan, 71, who retired.

Cao also stepped down as vice-chairman of the military commission, but no replacement was named in a sign Hu has not made up his mind who will succeed him, sources with ties to the leadership said.

Two candidates to one day succeed Hu and government chief Wen emerged on Monday -- Shanghai Party boss Xi Jinping, 54, and Liaoning provincial Party boss Li Keqiang, 52. They will resign from their jobs soon.

Both men pole-vaulted to the top echelon of power, the Party's nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, with Xi ranked sixth followed by Li.

But neither Xi nor Li became vice-chairman of the Military Commission -- a sure sign of a successor in a country where Mao Zedong said power comes from the barrel of a gun.

''This is the post that really counts most,'' one source with leadership ties told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

APEX OF POWER While it has not been openly designated who will replace who five years hence, Xi's and Li's relative youth and status leave little doubt they are favoured to eventually assume the apex of power.

Xi was today named the No 1 member of the Party's Secretariat, which handles day-to-day Party affairs. He takes over outgoing Vice President Zeng Qinghong's Party portfolio and has a slight edge over Li to one day become national Partychief.

But there is no guarantee Xi will become vice president at the annual session of parliament next March, when Zeng retires.

Li is tipped to be appointed No 1 vice premier next March, replacing Huang Ju who died in June this year.

But Li will not necessarily replace Premier Wen Jiabao, who is constitutionally barred from seeking another term when his second five-year stint ends in 2012.

''The two have an opportunity to compete on a level playing field,'' a second source with leadership ties said, asking not to be identified.

Whoever does better would become Hu's heir and assume the vice-presidency and Military Commission vice-chairmanship.

The vice president does not have to be a Standing Committee member and there is speculation the post could go to outgoing Vice-Premier Wu Yi, known as the ''Iron Lady'' for taking on the United States in trade disputes, or a non-Communist.


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