On July 31, one day after Guo Boxiong, a former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and Politburo member, was expelled from the Party and handed over for a court martial, the Central Military Commission held a ceremony awarding 10 military officers the rank of full general.
The 10 generals are widely distributed among different units of the People’s Liberation Army. General Wang Guanzhong is a deputy chief of staff; General Yin Fanglong is a deputy director of the General Political Department; Admiral Miao Hua is political commissar of the PLA Navy; General Zhang Shibo is president of the National Defense University; General Song Puxuan is commander of the Beijing Military Region; General Liu Yuejun is commander of the Lanzhou Military Region; General Zhao Zongqi is commander of the Jinan Military Region; General Zheng Weiping is political commissar of the Nanjing Military Region; General Li Zuocheng is commander of the Chengdu Military Region; and General Wang Ning is commander of the People’s Armed Police.
However, not all of them have met the conventional criteria for promotion to the rank of full general. In the Regulations on the Military Ranks of Officers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the legal document regarding the promotions and demotions of the PLA officers, there are no specific requirements for the promotion to the rank of full general. According to the first item of Article 17, officers at the rank of senior colonel and above are promoted based on “their positions, virtues and talents, and contributions to the national defense construction.” But the convention has been that a candidate for promotion to the rank of full general should have been a lieutenant general for four years and a chief leader of military region rank for two years.
In terms of these conventional criteria, eight of the 10 officers are eligible. General Liu Yuejun, for instance, was awarded the rank of lieutenant general in July 2008 and was promoted to the rank of military region chief in October 2010. The same is true of Generals Zheng Weiping, Zhao Zongqi, Zhang Shibo, Song Puxuan, Li Zuocheng, and Yin Fanglong. They have all been lieutenant generals for more than four years and military regional chiefs for two years, though Li Zuocheng and Song Puxuan barely meet the second criterion.
What is interesting is that two officers who do not meet these conventional criteria have also been promoted: General Wang Ning and Admiral Miao Hua. Wang Ning was awarded the rank of lieutenant general in July 2012 while he was chief of staff of the Beijing Military Region and was promoted to the rank of military region chief in July 2013 when he was promoted to deputy chief of staff of the General Staff Department. He has been in his new post as commander of the People’s Armed Police for seven months.
Miao Hua is on an even faster track. He was also awarded the rank of lieutenant general in July 2012 while he was newly appointed deputy political commissar of the Lanzhou Military Region. But he was promoted to the rank of military regional chief merely one year ago. He was promoted to political commissar of the Lanzhou Military Region in July 2014. Five months later, he was transferred to Beijing as political commissar of the PLA Navy.
As described in a previous Diplomat article, Wang and Miao both previously worked in the 31st Army. Wang was commander of the army for three years, and Miao spent almost 36 years there. Both are the beneficiaries of the rise of the 31st Army in the Chinese military.
What is most fascinating about this round of promotions is that Central Military Commission Chairman Xi Jinping’s name has been placed in front of Premier Li Keqiang’s name in the announcement of their approvals for the Wang’s promotion to the rank of full general as commander of the People’s Armed Police.
Since the promulgation of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on National Defense on March 14, 1997, the premier’s name has always been placed in front of the name of the CMC chairman in the promotion of the leaders of the People’s Armed Police in accordance with the law (in particular, Item 8 of Article 12).
Yang Guoping was the first officer to be awarded the rank of full general from the People’s Armed Police after 1997. His promotion was approved by Premier Li Peng and Chairman Jiang Zemin on March 4, 1998. His successor, Wu Shuangzhan, was promoted to the rank of full general in the People’s Armed Police (along with Sui Mingtai, the then-political commissar of the People’s Armed Police) by Premier Wen Jiabao and Chairman Jiang Zemin on June 14, 2004. Similarly, Wu’s successor, Wang Jianping, was promoted to the same rank in July 2012 with the approval of Premier Wen Jiabao and Chairman Hu Jintao on June 28, 2012.
The change to the order of the premier and the chairman’s names should not be dismissed as gibberish; it reflects the new power relationship. Ideally, the law should have been amended before the change. But the law now will have to be amended to reflect the new reality sooner or later if this new power relationship is more desirable.