18th Party Congress

Xi Jinping youngest head of Central Military Commission in three decades

New leader of country also youngest head of Central Military Commission in three decades

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2012, 5:13am

At 59 years old, new party leader Xi Jinping is the youngest head of the party's decision-making body for the armed forces in more than three decades. And he is the first leader to seize pivotal positions with both the party and military during a leadership transition in 23 years.

His role atop the party's Central Military Commission (CMC) also reflects the youthfulness of the current CMC members when compared with the party's newly elected seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.

The average age of CMC members is now 62, a year younger than the Communist Party's top decision-making body. But compared with the career servicemen seen on the People's Liberation Army's top body a decade ago, the average age of the new commission is a few months older.

Mao Zedong and Hua Guofeng were the two youngest chairmen in CMC history. They both ruled the PLA top brass when they were 56, in 1949 and 1977, respectively. Mao held the post for 27 years, while Hua lasted four years.

The CMC's two new vice-chairmen are General Fan Changlong , 65, ex-commander of the Jinan Military Area Command, and former air force commander General Xu Qiliang . Xu, 62, is the first air force general to be promoted to one of the CMC vice-chairmen.

Other members include General Chang Wanquan , former director of the army's General Armament Department, as well as the seven chief commanders of the PLA's navy, air force, strategic missile corps and four headquarters.

Chang was listed before the seven chief commanders, hinting that he is likely to replace incumbent Defence Minister Liang Guanglie during next year's National People's Congress.

"The leadership of the CMC is not only younger, but more professional and diversified, as leaders were elected from different units in the PLA, including the air force, navy and the strategic missile troop," said Xu Guangyu , a senior researcher at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association in Beijing.

Ni Lexiong , director of a defence policy research centre at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said that Xi, as a top military leader with a princeling background - who experienced a series of political crises during the Great Leap Forward, the nation's three-year famine and the Cultural Revolution - would not be as tolerant as his predecessor, Hu Jintao . Ni said that Xi might turn the PLA into a more hawkish fighting force, especially when dealing with neighbouring countries in territorial disputes in the East and South China seas.

However, Xu said today's national affairs and policies would not be decided by one person, but by "group leadership".

The top military body's generational transition also brings with it less real combat experience among members than their immediate predecessors had.

The PLA grabbed 35 seats on the party's Central Committee during the just-ended party congress, or 17 per cent of the 205 total members. That was three seats less than the army had during the last term. The army's representatives include General Liu Yuan , political commissar of the army's General Logistics Department, and General Liu Yazhou , political commissar for the National Defence University. Both are known for their open-mindedness.

But General Zhang Qinsheng , 64, a deputy chief of the General Staff who was considered a frontrunner to succeed Liang as defence minister several years ago, is not on the new Central Committee.