A number of young Chinese military officers, handpicked by President Xi Jinping, are set to take top positions in the world’s largest military as older generals have either bowed out or been purged in the massive anti-corruption campaign, a media report said on Wednesday. Most of the top generals of the 2.3-million strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA) including vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) Fan Changlong, Defence Minister Chang Wanquan and three other CMC members are set to retire, paving the way for a new generation of generals.
General Fan is the highest ranking military official as he is deputy to 64-year-old Xi who heads the CMC, the overall high command of the PLA. The changes are expected to be finalised in the forthcoming 19th Congress of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) to be held from October 18 here in which Xi himself along with Premier Li Keqiang are expected to get their second five-year tenure ratified.
The PLA, which unlike any other military functions under the CPC but not the government, will be well represented among the over 2,300 delegates who will attend the meeting which sets the policy tone for the next five years. Young guns including Xi’s top military aides are expected to move up the ranks, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
Of the 40 or so military members of the 200-strong elite Central Committee, a key policy of the CPC, seven are expected to keep their seats during the next month’s reshuffle at the Congress, according to a list of delegates announced last week. That would give President Xi more scope to promote younger generals to carry out his goal of overhauling the PLA into a modern military that meets China’s security needs and expanding overseas interests, the report said.
Among the 303 officers who will attend the party’s 19th National Congress are two newly-promoted key generals who hold low-profile military positions. Xi’s long-time aide Major General Zhong Shaojun, who runs the PLA’s day-to-day operations and Lieutenant General Wang Chunning, troop commander in Beijing, the report said.
Young guns from the ground, navy and air forces, the strategic missile troops and paramilitary forces will also have a chance of securing a seat on the Central Committee when they attend the party congress as part of the military delegation, it said. Since he took over power in 2013, Xi – who is regarded as the most powerful leader of China holding the posts of head of the CPC, the military and the Presidency – promoted a number of young generals to various ranks, replacing top generals who were purged in the anti-graft campaign initiated by him.
Over 40 generals, including disgraced former CMC vice-chairmen Guo Boxiong and Xu Caiho were either sacked or arrested on corruption charges in the biggest anti-graft campaign carried out by Xi among the PLA ranks. Guo was jailed in 2016 for life for taking bribes, while Xu died of cancer in custody in 2015 while he was under investigation for graft.
The campaign to weed out corruption had created opportunities for younger officers, said Zeng Zhiping, a military expert at the Nanchang Institute of Technology in Jiangxi. “Older generals are bowing out earlier because of the anti-graft drive and that’s creating openings for the young guns,” Zeng said.
Xi also totally revamped the PLA with plans to retrench three lakh troops and cut the size of the army to a million and to increase the size of the navy to enhance China’s influence abroad.