Lieutenant General Wei Fenghe , who commands the People's Liberation Army's strategic missile force, was promoted to full general yesterday - the first officer formally elevated to the highest rank by Xi Jinping in his new capacity as the military chief.
Wei, the 58-year-old commander of the Second Artillery Corps, received a certificate of command from Xi, chairman of the Communist Party's Central Military Commission, at a ceremony attended by other commission members in Beijing yesterday, Xinhua reported.
Xi took over from Hu Jintao as the PLA's commander-in-chief last Thursday and Wei was named a member of CMC, the PLA's ultimate decision-making body.
Analysts say Wei's promotion effectively marked the start of Xi's time as head of the PLA. Promoting senior military officers is one of the two most effective ways for a civilian party leader to consolidate his control over the world's biggest fighting force. The other is increasing military spending to improve soldiers' welfare.
Taiwan's former deputy defence minister Lin Chong-pin said Xi boasted exceptional political strength, which might help him set his stamp on the military earlier than most.
"The coming of Xi's era is far earlier than expected by most of the outside world," Lin said. "The authorisation of Wei's promotion signifies the kicking off of his time in charge of the military, although the process is going as expected."
Wei's promotion was expected after he became a CMC member one day after the 18th party congress closed 10 days ago. PLA regulations state that all the commission's military members be generals.
Lin Ying-yu, a Taiwan-based PLA watcher, said Wei had an impeccable military reputation.
"As the top military officer in charge of the PLA's nuclear weapons, Wei has been a focal point in an annual PLA symposium attended by military experts from Taiwan and the US over the past few years," Lin Ying-yu said. "Wei's promotion is a credit he deserves to receive, while Xi's position in the military will be strengthened even further."
Hu promoted 29 officers to full general status during his eight years as the military chief, while Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin , promoted 79 officers to the rank of full general during his 15 years in charge. That was seen as helping him keep control over the army even after stepping down as party boss in 2002.
Antony Wong Dong, of the Macau International Military Association, said it was unlikely that Xi would take over all of Hu's military roles until after the end of the annual session of the National People's Congress in March
Hu was set to remain chairman of the less important state CMC until then, he said.