London: Ahead of major leadership changes in China`s ruling Communist party, an "epic battle" for control of the three million-strong military has broken out with President Hu Jintao attempting to stay in charge of the powerful PLA, a media report claimed on Sunday.
"An epic battle for control of the People`s Liberation Army (PLA) has broken out as the power struggle in China enters a new phase," The Sunday Times reported, as Hu visited Hong Kong to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the handover of the territory from British rule.
"At its centre (of the epic battle) is President Hu," the paper quoted its Chinese sources as saying in Hong Kong who have been briefed on Communist party affairs.
Hu, 69, is attempting to stay in charge of the military as Chairman of the Central Military Commission after he steps down later this year as President and as head of the Communist party, the report said.
The CPC, which has maintained its hold on political power since the founding of the People`s Republic in 1949, is expected to undergo major leadership changes with Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao retiring at the 18th Party Congress later this year.
Talk of Hu`s bid to stay in change of PLA came as party insiders leaked the most detailed account yet of the internal strife that led to shots being fired in Beijing in a confrontation between troops and paramilitary police on the night of March 19, the paper said.
Rumours swept the capital of an attempted coup but were officially denied, it said.
"The incident left Hu so disturbed that he is lobbying against fierce resistance to retain his position as Chairman of the Central Military Commission, which has supreme command of the armed forces, for at least another two years," it said.
The dramatic sequence of events ? the most destabilising in Beijing since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 ? has been pieced together by Qianshao, a magazine based in Hong Kong but known for its political connections in China.
Hu genuinely feared a coup by radical supporters of Bo Xilai, the former party boss of Chongqing, according to Qianshao`s veteran editor Liu Dawen.
"I`m confident that we have excellent sources close to the politburo and that even if we don`t have the full picture, what we have is right," the Times quoted him as saying.
The issue began when a scandal broke over the death of Neil Heywood, the British businessman, and led to the purge of Bo and the arrest of his wife, Gu Kailai, on suspicion of murder.
Hu`s fears deepened when Xi Jinping, China`s Vice- President and his designated successor, returned from the US in February to report that the White House still thought Bo was a key political player, the report said.
Bo had one powerful supporter at the top, the security
czar Zhou Yongkang. Zhou had 800,000 police under his authority and kept units of the paramilitary People`s Armed Police on duty around his offices in the capital.
Hu made several decisive - some rivals say rash - moves, according to Qianshao. First, he relieved Major General Wang Xixin, commander of the 38th Group Army which guards Beijing. In Wang`s place Hu appointed Major-General Xu Linping.
Four nights later, Xu dispatched soldiers to the city centre under presidential orders.
Qianshao said a unit of the 38th Group Army came face to face with a platoon of 36 paramilitary police guarding the offices of the Central Political and Law Committee - codenamed White Horse Temple - which was Zhou`s power base.
As the two groups edged closer, the paramilitaries fired a fusillade of warning shots from their AK-47 assault rifles into the air, which was heard all over the hushed city centre.
"It was a bluff. The soldiers charged, overpowered and disarmed them," the Times reported.
Of Zhou, the septuagenarian hardliner, there was no sign, it said. A short time later the telephone rang in Hu`s office, where the worried President was huddled with his advisers.
It was Jiang Zemin, the 85-year-old former President who remains an influential party elder.
"Comrade Jintao, I just want to tell you that Comrade Zhou Yongkang is a fine comrade with a self-sacrificing party spirit. He had no intention of staging a coup. Do not be so credulous about rumours from hostile foreign and domestic forces," said Jiang, according to the magazine`s account.
He went on to say that the purge of Bo`s allies must stop. "If you keep this fire burning it will do no good to the state, the people and all of us," Jiang said. "Judging by tonight`s events I would say that Comrade Zhou Yongkang has shown great restraint and grasps the big picture."
The magazine claims Hu broke into a cold sweat at this rebuke. Whether or not this account is accurate, the fact is that within 24 hours China`s top leaders staged a show of unity for the official media and appeared to close ranks, the report said.