Li Jinai: PLA political director stuck in stationary orbit

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2007, 12:00am

The decision to go back to just having two Central Military Commission vice-chairmen means that General Li Jinai remains in a lower orbit.

But at a time when national leaders are increasingly stressing the threats and opportunities presented by a military presence in space, General Li - a member of the Central Military Commission and director of the People's Liberation Army's General Political Department - is regarded in the party as a major asset.

At 65, he is regarded by some as too old for high office, but his 16 years with the Second Artillery Corps (SAC) - the strategic missile forces - weigh heavily in his favour.

Little is known about his personal contribution, but while he was commissar the corps developed the country's first intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Lately, General Li's public activities have been focused less on military matters and more on routine events, including celebrating Teachers' Day and hosting a forum on ideological education in an effort to boost his political credentials.

General Li was born in July 1942 in Tengzhou , Shandong province , and spent seven years from 1961 studying mechanical engineering at the Harbin Institute of Technology.

In 1969, he joined the SAC as a clerk and took 14 years to become base deputy political commissar. Over that time, he assumed administrative, rather than technical, responsibilities.

He was transferred to Beijing in the mid-1980s and rapidly climbed the ladder to become deputy director of the PLA General Political Department.

But he did not stay there for long. Then-president Jiang Zemin , uncomfortable with former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's residual influence over the army, took power from army head Yang Baibing and his followers, including General Li.

General Li was demoted in 1992 to manage the daily operations of the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence, and remained there until 1998.

A former commander of China's manned space programme, he is commonly regarded as a President Hu Jintao man.