Jiang signal at funeral

Hong Kong, Jan. 23: A decade after he stepped down as China's top leader, the powerful Communist Party elder Jiang Zemin has used the death of a former rival to signal that he may allow his political shadow to recede and give the nation's newest leader more room to consolidate his authority.

The sign came in official accounts of mourning for Yang Baibing, a general who was pushed from office after being implicated in efforts to challenge Jiang. A report on Yang's funeral by Xinhua, the state news agency, on Monday ranked Jiang last among a dozen party luminaries who had offered words of comfort and condolences.

As recently as late November, Jiang, 86, was placed third in rank in a similar mourning announcement, behind Hu Jintao, who had stepped down earlier that month as head of the Communist Party and will retire as state president in March, and Xi Jinping, Hu's successor in those posts.

For some political analysts seeking to fathom the undercurrents of power in China's secretive elite, Jiang's reduced protocol ranking suggested something more ' that he may finally curb any impulses to exert influence behind the red walls of Zhongnanhai, the party leadership's compound in central Beijing.

"In China, the saying goes that you must live up to your title to give your words sway, so if Jiang Zemin meddles in politics again after making this step, his reputation will be badly damaged," said Yao Jianfu, a retired party official.

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