Liang Guanglie: Strategist's political ambitions put on hold
In the five years since he joined the military leadership, General Liang Guanglie has merged combat experience with the art of strategy, with a particular focus on the cross-strait crisis.
The amphibious-warfare specialist, who spent more than 20 years examining the Taiwan issue, had been widely tipped to scale new political heights but the decision to return to a two-vice-chairman system for the Central Military Commission appears to have put those ambitions on hold.
General Liang, 66-year-old Sichuan native, joined the army in 1958 when he was 18, and in 1979 was a deputy division leader of the 20th Military Group's ground forces during conflict with Vietnam. His combat exploits secured him a place on a commanders' training course at the People's Liberation Army's Institute of Military Engineering.
He began to research the Taiwan issue and develop a military strategy towards the island in the 1980s.
As tension rose in 1999 with the island's presidential campaign and subsequent election of pro-independence candidate Chen Shui-bian, General Liang was the chief of the Nanjing Military Command - the key military region in terms of dealing with the cross-strait crisis.
Over the next few years, he directed several military exercises on Fujian's Dongshan Island, one of the closest islets to Taiwan, to try to deter the island's independence leanings.
He has also left a literary legacy on strategy, having headed a team from the Nanjing Military Command and the University of National Defence in writing a book on cross-strait strategy. The book, The Study of Sailing Across the Strait, was designed to teach PLA commanders about the experiences of Ming and Qing dynasty militarists Zheng Chenggong and Shi Lang in 'liberating Taiwan'.
'General Liang's aim at that time was very clear: just conquer Taiwan,' Hong Kong-based commentator Ho Leong-leong said.
'Besides studying how to project force across the Taiwan Strait, he has also spent a lot of time learning about the US military's amphibious warfare capabilities during the second world war.'
A year after the book's publication, General Liang's career made a great leap forward with his elevation to the CMC and post of chief of the general staff. He stepped down as chief of the general staff last month, to be replaced by another Taiwan specialist, General Chen Bingde .
In the reshuffle five years ago, both General Liang and General Chen were candidates to become the chief of general staff, a source close to the PLA said.
'General Liang won the position because of his moderate temperament, while General Chen was too self-centred and failed to get along well with other political commissars,' the source said. .