Even though he has been China's president for two years, Hu Jintao wasn't given the powerful position of military commander until Sunday. His predecessor, Jiang Zemin, had clung to that post, casting a shadow over Mr. Hu and, more important, Hu's idea that China's ascendency as a power should be a "peaceful rise."
Now that he's in control of the military, the state, and the Communist Party, Hu's milder views on China's role in the world and the need to uplift its 800 million peasants may prevail.
An apparent low-level power struggle between Hu and Jiang was symbolic of the party's divisions between conservatives and liberals, or those who want to stoke Chinese nationalism to retain popular support for the party and those who want the party to focus mainly on internal needs such as the rural-urban disparity of wealth.
That struggle may persist despite Jiang's official retirement, and continue to influence such policies as China's recent belligerent actions toward Taiwan and its mediation over North Korea's nuclear program.
China's integration into Asia and global institutions depends on a stable, open, and liberal leadership. Jiang's leaving was an orderly transfer of power unusual for the party. That's a hopeful sign that China will act more responsibly in the world.