Space official takes charge of Chinese military equipment development programme

Lt Gen Li Shangfu given new role as President Xi Jinping repositions trusted associates ahead of party leadership reshuffle

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 2:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 11:23pm

A senior official from China’s space programme has been promoted to head the country’s military equipment development programme, an official newspaper announced on Monday, suggesting another move by President Xi Jinping to fill senior military positions with trusted associates.

Lieutenant General Li Shangfu, 59, took over the role from General Zhang Youxia, PLA Daily reported. The news came as Li was attending the third China Military and Civilian Integration Export fair in Beijing, at which he used his new title for the first time.

With the start of China’s twice-a-decade party congress now just a month away – at which there will be a major leadership reshuffle – it is likely the personnel change is part of Xi’s goal to surround himself with his own men.

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Zhang is currently one of the eight regular members of the Central Military Commission – the body that runs China’s military – under Xi as chairman and two vice-chairmen. While the newspaper report did not say what Zhang’s future might hold, there has been speculation in the foreign media that he could be promoted to a vice-chairman’s role at the upcoming congress.

Zhang is the seventh regular CMC member to step down from a functional military role in recent months, following the heads of the Joint Staff Department, Political Work Department and Logistic Support Department, and the commanders of the air force, navy and rocket force. All seven have been replaced by younger generals though they each retained their positions on the CMC, at least for now.

Zhang is also head of China’s lunar exploration and manned space projects – with Li as his deputy in both cases – but the PLA Daily report did not say if there would be any changes in those roles.

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Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said that Li’s elevation was in line with other military reshuffles.

“Li’s promotion reflects the move towards a younger leadership within the PLA,” he said.

“[He] was previously deputy head of the General Armament Department and the Strategic Support Force, so he is very familiar with China’s hi-tech weapons development.”

The PLA Daily report said that as well as Zhang’s departure from the military equipment development programme, its political head General Wang Hongyao had been replaced by Lieutenant General An Zhaoqing, a former political commissar from the air force.

An, like Li, is regarded as one of Xi’s trusted allies, having made significant progress through the ranks since the Chinese president came to power in 2012.

Similarly, General Li Zuocheng, the new chief of the Joint Staff Department, and Admiral Miao Hua the new boss of the Political Work Department, are also seen as being firmly in Xi’s camp.

The Joint Staff Department oversees China’s ground troops, air force, navy, rocket force and strategic support army, while the Political Work Department controls its ideological education.

The departments’ former chiefs were given their positions by the now disgraced former CMC vice-chairmen Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou.