Ex-Chinese leader Jiang takes step back: reports

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Former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin has requested a lower rank in the Communist Party protocol, according to state media, with experts saying Thursday he bowed to pressure from outgoing President Hu Jintao.

The 86-year-old, who retired as China's top leader a decade ago, is widely seen as a kingmaker within the top echelons of power in Beijing, particularly after a surprisingly prominent appearance at last November's 18th Party Congress.

Jiang was seated alongside Hu at the gathering where a new set of leaders was unveiled, but his waning power was "evidenced" in an official press release on Monday's funeral of communist veteran Yang Baibing, the Xinhua news agency said.

The release listed Jiang's name behind those of the party's current leaders, including party general secretary Xi Jinping, it said.

Jiang had been named at number two behind Hu since his retirement, the state-run Global Times said.

Jiang had asked party leaders "to group him with other retired comrades in the leadership's protocol order in the future", Xinhua said, citing a statement from "relevant authorities" that said the move reflected Jiang's "noble character, sterling integrity and broad-mindedness of a communist".

Some analysts said Hu may have "pressured" Jiang to lower his profile at the high-level meeting.

Unlike Jiang, Hu gave up the powerful position of chairman of the Central Military Commission when he handed control of the party over to his successor.

It was a sign that he wanted other elders to make a clean break from party affairs on their retirement, according to Willy Lam, a politics expert at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Jiang stepped down as leader in November 2002, but took another two years to relinquish control of the military. He has since remained in the public eye through writing books and attending high-profile events.

"I think Jiang has been put under a lot of pressure to do this, mainly from Hu and the people around Hu, including Xi," said Lam, author of The Era of Jiang Zemin.

"Hu set an example for total retirement, of 'naked retirement'. This puts pressure on Jiang to follow suit and stop interfering in party affairs, particularly personnel arrangements."

Jiang may have realised it was now time to "show some magnanimity" and let others rule the party, he added.

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