| Hu Jintao (left) and Jiang Zemin
Beijing, Sept. 19 (Reuters): Former President Jiang Zemin gave up the top job in China's military today, handing over his last post to Communist Party chief Hu Jintao to complete a historic leadership transition to a younger generation.
The party's elite central committee accepted the resignation of Jiang, 78, on the final day of a four-day closed-door plenum and approved Hu's rise to chairman of the party's decision-making Central Military Commission, Xinhua news agency said.
Hu, 61, who replaced Jiang as party chief in 2002 and as President in 2003, now holds the three most powerful positions in China, rounding out the first orderly succession in Chinese Communist history.
'The Hu Jintao era has started,' said a Chinese political analyst.
In a sign Jiang's influence is already waning, his closest political ally, Vice-President Zeng Qinghong, did not join the military commission. Xu Caihou, 61, a member of the military commission, was promoted as a vice-chairman, Xinhua said.
Jiang's departure was unlikely to result in dramatic changes to domestic, foreign and economic policies, with Hu set to pursue the market-friendly reforms that have transformed China into the world's seventh-largest economy.
A plenum communique reinforced expectations that the former hydraulic engineer would not stray from Jiang's tough stand on using force to recover Taiwan if the self-ruled island formally declares independence.
The party 'resolutely opposes and will contain 'Taiwan independence' splittist forces and unswervingly safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity', it said.
Sources with close ties to the party and Jiang's family said he was in poor health and had had a heart problem since 1989.
'Now that Hu takes over the top job, people will want to know how well he can strike a balance between easing China-Taiwan tensions, sustaining economic growth and maintaining China-US relations, particularly when there might be a new US President following November's election,' said James Sung, principal lecturer at City University of Hong Kong.
In his resignation letter, Jiang said he had retired in hopes that his departure would standardise future generational changes.
After the plenum, Jiang smiled and shook hands with Hu and other delegates to sustained applause. He posed for a group photograph.
'I hope that everyone will work hard and keep advancing under the leadership of the party central committee with Comrade Hu Jintao as general secretary,' Jiang said. 'I'm convinced that our party's cause will witness more and bigger victories!'
Hu credited Jiang for his 'outstanding contribution to the party, the state and the people', and thanked Jiang for his 'support and assistance' to party leaders.
Jiang had not been due to retire from his final post until 2007 but came under pressure to follow in the footsteps of late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, who stepped down from the top military job two years after quitting the all-powerful politburo standing committee but wielded power behind the scenes for years.