Young guns including Xi Jinping’s top military aide expected to move up the ranks

Newly promoted generals Zhong Shaojun and Wang Chunning are names to watch at the party congress next month

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 9:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 10:22am

China is preparing to usher in a new generation of generals to run its military in the coming decade in what is expected to be a bigger shake-up of the top brass than the last one five years ago.

Of the 40 or so military members of the 200-strong elite Central Committee, seven are expected to keep their seats during next month’s reshuffle at the Communist Party congress – half the number that stayed on in 2012, according to a list of delegates announced last week.

That would give President Xi Jinping more scope to promote younger generals to carry out his goal of overhauling the People’s Liberation Army into a modern military that meets China’s security needs and expanding overseas interests.

Among the 303 officers who will attend the party’s 19th National Congress are two newly promoted generals that hold key but 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.

Getting this ticket to attend the party congress is the first step for most Central Committee hopefuls – whether they are civilian cadres or military officers.

Central Committee members hold many key positions in China’s military and the paramilitary People’s Armed Police.

And with a number of generals having been brought down in Xi’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign – and with others due to retire – there will be plenty of vacancies to fill on the Central Committee this year.

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There are 12 delegates on the Central Committee at present but five are likely to retire soon, including Central Military Commission (CMC) vice-chairman Fan Changlong, defence minister Chang Wanquan and three other CMC members.

One name to watch is Zhong, 45, who last month was named director of the CMC’s General Office – a position that wields tremendous influence – and is expected to play a key military role in the future.

Late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and former president Jiang Zemin both put confidants – Wang Ruilin and Jia Tingan – in the same job.

“The General Office is at the top of the list of 15 new departments affiliated with the CMC – its importance is clear,” said Beijing-based military expert Li Jie.

Zhong has been a senior civilian aide to Xi since Xi was party boss in Zhejiang province from 2002 to 2007. He was the only subordinate Xi brought with him when he became Shanghai party secretary in early 2007.

When Xi became CMC chairman in 2012, Zhong received the military rank of senior colonel and was named director of Xi’s personal office at the CMC.

Meanwhile, new Beijing Garrison Commander Wang will make his first appearance as a delegate to the party congress next month.

Wang’s troops make up one of three security layers that guard the country’s political heart – the innermost Central Guard Regiment, which looks after state leaders, the garrison for the capital, and the Central Theatre Command which guards the periphery.

Like Zhong, Wang, 55, also worked in Zhejiang province when Xi was party boss there – Wang was head of a PLA Army Corps armaments unit in the city of Huzhou from October 2004 to August 2006.

Other 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 in October as part of the military delegation.

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Many of those on the list were promoted during Xi’s first term in office rather than generals appointed under disgraced former CMC vice-chairmen Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou. Guo was jailed for life for taking bribes in 2016, while Xu died of cancer in custody the previous year while he was under investigation for graft.

The campaign to weed out corruption had created opportunities for younger officers, according to 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.