The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will be holding its 18th Party Congress from November 8, 2012, this Congress will be selecting the leadership of the Party and in turn the national leadership for the coming decade. Next generation of leadership under Xi Jinping is scheduled to take over power in China after the Congress. Party has already elected 2,270 delegates to this Congress. In total nearly 3,000 delegates are expected to attend this meet. One of the key function of the newly elected Party Central Committee (CC) will be the election of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC)which will control the military and security issues of China. As per the legal provisions the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China is an organ under the Party.
In preparation for this meeting, the central leadership has announced certain changes in the upper echelons of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on October 23 and 25, 2012, which has given a clear indication to the possible military leadership of China in the post 18th Party Congress scenario. Earlier in end July 2012 the central leadership promoted six senior Military officers to the rank of Generals. With these two events it has become further clear that the Chinese Communist Party is certainly looking for a more sophisticated and complex role for its Military in nation’s future.
With these changes, apart from the personnel line up of the senior leadership of PLA, the possible directions the Military intends to take in the future has also become clear. Most of these promotions and transfers indicate that the Party is functioning on the old dictum of to be “red and expert”. Most of the generals got promoted in July belonged to the professional Political Commissar cadre. A large number of commanders occupying leading positions will be retiring this time – in the main decision making body, the Central Military Commission – seven out of the ten uniformed members would be leaving. At the political level, the outgoing CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao is expected to keep the powerful post of the Chairman of CMC for coming one or two years more and the new incumbent, Xi Jinping will continue to be the Vice Chairman.
After the reshuffle, Gen Ma Xiaotian, currently the Deputy Chief in the General Staff Department and in-charge of foreign military intelligence, will be the new Commander in Chief of the PLA Air Force, making way for the current chief Gen Xu Qiliang to take over one of the Vice Chairman post of CMC. The other Vice Chairman post in all likelihood would go to Gen. Chang Wanquan, a sitting member of CMC and the Director of General Armament Department. Gen Chang was also the chief of China’s first manned space mission. This expected lineup of new leadership of PLA shows that it would be paying enhanced emphasis on military applications in areas of space, airpower and cyber defence and offensive capability etc.
The latest appointments to the four major commanding departments of PLA the transition has become almost complete. Gen Fang Fenghui, Commander of Beijing Military Region (MR) has taken over as Chief in the General Staff Department. Gen Fang is known to be close to CCP general secretary Hu Jintao. Gen. Zhang Yang, Political Commissar of Guangzhou MR has been asked to take over the key portfolio of the Director of General of Political Department. Likewise, in the General Logistics Department , Gen Zhao Keshi, a close associate of Xi Jinping and the present Commander of Nanjing MR has taken over. Gen Zhan Youxia, Commander of Shenyang MR, also close to Xi Jinping, will be heading General Armament Department . All these four generals will be included in the new CMC as per custom. For the remaining key post of the Defence Minister of China, it could be possible that, Gen. Fan Changlong, Commander of the Jinan MR may be named. The incumbent Naval Chief Admiral Wu Shengli can continue for another term in the CMC. Newly appointed Air Force Chief Ma Xiaotian and the Second Artillery Commander General Wei Fenghe will be the other members.
With the completion of the lineup of the members of CMC, it is becoming clear that three Communist Party leaders, former Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping have got placed their protégés in key military posts. Gen Xu Qiliang to take over as one of the Vice Chairman CMC is believed to be a protégé of Jiang Zemin.
Gen Ma Xiaotain’s elevation to the new CMC would be interesting to watch, a fighter pilot with vast experience is familiar with the working of many Military formations around the world including India. Trained in the initial stages as an Air Force officer, now he is coming back to head the PLA Air Force after gaining a variety of experiences in other fields. As mentioned earlier now the developments of Chinese air force, various air arms of its other forces and related developments would need closer observation. With the experiences of other key personnel in CMC, other areas like space, cyber and joint fighting capabilities also expected to get the required boost in the coming decade.
Newly appointed Second Artillery, strategic forces, Commander General Wei Fenghe, aged 58, would be the youngest member of the CMC. A thoroughly trained professional in nuclear and missile related strategic issues is expected to guide China’s strategic forces in the future.
The overall line up of the Military commission indicates that China would be looking at jointness, applications for larger aerospace security as well as, enhanced cyber defence and offence capabilities for its Military in the future. It will be useful for Indian defence establishment to follow these developments.
(The writer M.V. Rappai is a Delhi based China analyst associated with the Institute of Chinese studies, Delhi, Email: email@example.com)