With the promotion of a number of PLA officer to general, Xi Jinping appears to be seeking to consolidate his control over the military.
On Wednesday, a day before the PLA's 86 birthday, Xi promoted six PLA officers to full general, state media reported. Two of these officers were Xu Fenlin, commander of the Guangzhou Military Region and Cai Yingting, the Nanjing Military Region commander. They are now the only two of China’s seven military region commanders to hold this rank, according to South China Morning Post.
Want China Times notes that many of the generals are extremely young, which is likely to make them more loyal to Xi personally.
“Of the six appointments, three have only recently satisfied the conditions for eligibility,” the article noted. It also observed that General Cai is now the youngest general in the PLA.
Hu Jintao, Xi’s predecessor, also promoted young officers as generals in order to more fully consolidate his control over the PLA, and ensure that his patrons would be in leading positions after he left office.
Meanwhile, SCMP points out that both Generals Xu and Cai have some history or common bonds with President Xi, who also serves as the chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, the country’s highest military decision-making body.
President Xi met with General Cai in Guangzhou just a month after taking power last November when Xi conducted his “southern tour” modeled off former Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Although more speculative, General Cai was born in Fujian, where Xi spent seventeen years working.
General Cai has spent much of career working on Taiwan issues. In August of last year he also led a military delegation on a trip to the United States.
Prior to this week, Xi had only promoted one general since taking over the CMC last year. In November, a week and a day after assuming control, Xi promoted Wei Fenghe, the commander of the Second Artillery Corps, which controls China’s nuclear arsenal, to full general.
Xi differed from his two immediate predecessors in taking over the CMC at the same time as he became General Secretary of the Communist Party. However, as part of much of the CMC and top military brass was stacked with generals loyal to Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao.
In late October, for example, Fang Fenghui, Zhang Yang, Zhao Keshi and Zhang Youxia were tapped to run the PLA’s four “General Departments:” the General Staff, General Political, General Logistics, and General Armaments, respectively. With the possible exception of General Zhang Youxia, a princeling but one who rose through the ranks, all four men were seen as Hu loyalists.
Ahead of the 18th Party Congress, Generals Fan Changlong and Xu Qiliang were also made the PLA’s two vice-chairmen to the CMC. Some analysts said both men were close to Hu, although there was disagreement on this point.
In any case, Xi Jinping has exerted himself strongly over the military since taking over the CMC in November, including instituting a campaign to rid the PLA officer corps of excess, and extending his “mass line” campaign to the military. In April Xi also decreed that generals and senior officers in the PLA would periodically be sent to the front lines to serve among the grunts for a certain amount of time.
Earlier this week, Xi also gave a speech to the Beijing Military Area Command in which he admonished the troops to strictly follow the Party line.
“We must make sure that troops obey the command of the Party and are absolutely loyal and reliable,” Xi said during the speech.
In summarizing his speech, Xinhua said that Xi had also called for “unremitting efforts to arm servicemen with socialist theories of Chinese characteristics and ensure their purity, reliability and firmness in ideological fronts.”
Xi’s confidence in exerting himself over the PLA this early on in his tenure likely stems in part from his status a Princeling and the fact that, unlike many of China’s leaders in recent years, Xi has prior experience with the military, having served as a personal secretary (mishu) to Geng Biao from 1979 to 1982, who at the time was the minister of defense.