China's military reshuffle almost complete
The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network
SINGAPORE -- The latest reshuffle in the Chinese military means that personnel changes for the all-powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are almost finalised.
China announced on Thursday the new heads for the four major departments of the People's Liberation Army (PLA): staff, political, logistics and armament. Together with earlier announcements of new commanders for the three services, new heads for all but one key post, that of the defence minister, have been named.
Heads of these key posts are traditionally named to the party's 12-member CMC.
The new CMC will be announced at the 18th Party Congress, which begins on November 8.
President Hu Jintao will remain chairman of the new CMC and is expected to stay until the 18th Congress' Fourth Plenary Session, likely to be held in 2014.
Vice-President Xi Jinping will remain the first vice-chairman for now, waiting to take over from Hu two years later.
Replacing the other CMC vice-chairmen Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou are likely to be former air force commander Xu Qiliang and Jinan Military Region commander Fan Changlong.
Former chief of armament Chang Wanquan will most likely be the new Defence Minister, who will have a seat on the CMC.
Another four members will be generals Fang Fenghui, Zhang Yang, Zhao Keshi, Zhang Youxia, the heads of the staff, political, logistics and armament departments respectively.
The last three seats go to the commanders of the three services, who were announced earlier: General Ma Xiaotian (air force), Vice-Admiral Sun Jianguo (navy) and General Wei Fenghe (missile force).
There is one final post still undetermined: the director of the CMC Office. In the October 23 announcement, current director Wang Guanzhong was promoted to deputy director of General Staff, but no replacement was announced. Normally, this post would be given to the one who had the closest personal relationship with the CMC chairman.
The new CMC line-up reflects a delicate balance of power between the various factions.
The General Staff is the most important department in the military, and the top job has gone to Gen Fang, who is very close to Hu. He impressed Hu as commander of the Beijing Military Region by organising the successful military parade held in 2009. He was the only military head whom Hu had praised publicly.
Xi's influence in the military is beginning to surface. Gen Zhao, the new logistics head, was head of the 31st Group Army, which was stationed in Xiamen when Xi was Xiamen mayor and then Fujian governor.
Another long-time contact of Xi is Gen Zhang, the new armament head. Their fathers, the late Xi Zhongxun and Zhang Zongxun, served as commissar and commander respectively of the Northwest Army before 1949.
Given his connections with the military, Xi is in a much better position than Hu was when the latter first came to the CMC.
Former president Jiang Zemin will also retain some influence in the new CMC. He had exerted his influence through the outgoing vice-chairmen Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou -- they are seen as being close to the incoming vice-chairmen Xu Qiliang and Fan Changlong respectively.
Thus, the composition of the new CMC is the result of meticulous balancing between Jiang, Hu and Xi.
The line-up also marks two unprecedented developments.
First, the four departments are headed by officers who worked their way up from the bottom. This might have a positive impact on the administration of the military.
Second, it is the first time that a former air force commander will become CMC vice-chairman, reflecting the rapid development of the air force.