July 17, 2012
From yesterday’s DNA, written by Jayadeva Ranade:
This is a crucial year for China, when large-scale changes at the top echelons of the Chinese Communist Party as well as the People’s Liberation Army will be approved at the 18th Party Congress scheduled to be held in Beijing in October 2012. The changes coincide with rising domestic discontent and increased turbulence in China’s neighborhood.
They also overlap with widening resentment against corruption and spread of pro-Mao nostalgia in the country. At least two PLA generals of impeccable ‘revolutionary’ lineage, Mao Zedong’s grandson Mao Xinyu and General Liu Yuan, former Chinese president Liu Shaoqi’s son, have spoken out strongly against corruption. Like the CCP, the PLA has been buffeted by the recent factional infighting centering on Bo Xilai. This has given prominence to the issue of the PLA’s ‘absolute loyalty’ to the Party and could blight the promotion prospects of some senior officers.
The implications of the forthcoming changes are far-reaching. They will usher in a virtually new Central Military Commission, with seven of the current 10 uniformed members reaching the retirement age of 70 years. This includes both the uniformed CMC Vice Chairmen.
China’s Vice President Xi Jinping, ranked first among the three CMC Vice Chairmen, would, in the normal course, be expected to take over as CMC Chairman from Hu Jintao. In view of the unsettled political situation and repeated exhortations by senior officers and official media urging the PLA to be ‘absolutely loyal’ to the Party and rally ‘more closely’ around ‘Chairman Hu,’ it appears probable that Hu Jintao will retain the position of CMC Chairman for at least another year. The two CMC Vice Chairmen who retire will be replaced by two of the three remaining CMC members. The third CMC member will be appointed Minister of Defense.
Reports suggest that the number of Vice Chairmen will be increased and Air Force General Ma Xiaotian, a ‘princeling’ close to Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping and a frontrunner for the position of PLA Air Force Commander, will instead be appointed Minister of Defense with the rank of CMC Vice Chairman.
There is also a proposal to symbolically assert generational change and appoint only those born after 1949, or after ‘liberation’ of the People’s Republic of China. If accepted, the changes will encompass Military Region Commanders and other senior officers.
There will be new Commanders for the PLAAF, People’s Liberation Army Navy and Second Artillery. The head of the PLA’s General Staff Department, who is equated with the Army Chief, will be new, as will be those of the General Political Department, General Armaments Department and General Logistics Department. All are members of the powerful CMC.
General Liu Yuan, presently Political Commissar of the GLD and friend of China’s putative President Xi Jinping, is tipped to be CMC Vice Chairman overseeing the PLA’s political work. This, however, entails a double promotion and he might just be appointed Director of the GPD, which still makes him a CMC member.
The newly constituted CMC will have some new features. Prominent will be that it will overwhelmingly comprise ‘operational’ officers and, for the first time, have increased representation from the PLAAF, and perhaps PLAN. This will give renewed emphasis to Hu Jintao’s concept of ‘Joint Integrated Operations’, focused upon since 2004 when Hu Jintao first introduced changes in the GSD’s structure to include PLAAF and PLAN officers at senior levels.
The presence of two PLAAF officers in the CMC guarantees the Air Force will pursue its modernization program and that at least 10% of the defense budget will continue to be spent on aircraft procurement and R&D. The Navy’s modernization program will similarly proceed apace. PLAN and PLAAF are both anticipated to adopt more operationally assertive postures. The new head of the PLA GSD will certainly have an operational background, which means increased attention to the Sino-Indian border and China’s other troubled frontiers.
Finally, of the 16 identified ‘princelings’ in the PLA’s senior echelons, for the first time there will be three or even four in the CMC. Like in the CCP, they will influence national strategic policy giving it a harder inflexible edge and, additionally, be Xi Jinping’s core supporters.
The changes, however, do not reduce the primacy of PLA ground forces, or PLAA, as they are being designated. Of 57 senior General Officers in the PLA, for example, 37 are from the PLAA. All seven Military Region Commanders are from the PLAA. The PLAA, with considerably larger manpower, receives a larger proportion of the budget.
The PLA’s overall political clout is likely to remain unaffected with representation in the Politburo probably remaining at two and it probably continuing to retain 24 seats in the Party Central Committee.