PLA reshuffle strengthens Xi Jinping's hand in corruption fight
Two key 'princelings' are set for promotion as president targets corruption and aims to turn world's largest army into a battle-ready force
President Xi Jinping will promote two People's Liberation Army generals closely associated with him in a move to deepen the anti-corruption drive and speed up reform in the world's largest fighting force.
The generals have yet to be named, but sources said Liu Yuan, the political commissar of the PLA general logistics department, and Zhang Youxia, head of the general armaments department, both stood a good chance. At least one of them will be named vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, which exercises command and control of the PLA, at a key Communist Party meeting next month, various sources said.
Three sources said that Liu may be tasked with heading the military's discipline commission.
Eventually both may join Xi, who is also the chairman of the CMC, to form a core leadership of the highest military command.
The CMC at present is led by Xi and two vice-chairmen - General Fan Changlong and General Xu Qiliang. Both were appointed in 2012. During the era of Jiang Zemin, the CMC had two to four career servicemen as vice-chairmen.
Both Liu and Zhang are so-called princelings - descendants of veteran Communist Party leaders and close associates of Xi. The proposal to promote them had been discussed several times at the PLA-run Jingxi Hotel in Beijing, the sources said.
"Liu is a top candidate because he is at the heart of the anti-corruption drive in the military. Zhang is also in the running because of his combat experience," one retired military official said.
Liu is the son of Liu Shaoqi, the former president who was later purged by Mao Zedong. He is said to be the man behind the downfall of Gu Junshan, the corrupt former lieutenant general and deputy logistics chief .
Zhang is the son of General Zhang Zongxun, a senior Red Army commander who fought in the civil war and Sino-Japanese war. Zhang is among a handful of serving generals with war experience, having served with distinction in the Sino-Vietnamese border wars in the 1970s and '80s.
"This is the time when Xi needs his own people in the military," another source said.
Xi's tenacious anti-graft campaign has spread to the PLA, whose credibility and fighting capacity have been greatly eroded by rampant corruption. Beginning with the dismissal and eventual court-martial of Gu, the campaign has claimed the scalp of Xu Caihou - the retired vice-chairman of the CMC, the highest-ranking military official probed for corruption since the Deng Xiaoping era.
Part of the reshuffle is also to rejuvenate and reform the world's largest military. Despite double-digit budget growth, the discipline and fighting capabilities of the PLA have been questioned by overseas observers.
The PLA has not fought a war since the conflict with Vietnam in the 1980s and its reputation has been tainted by corruption and a lack of vigorous training. Since Xi took power in 2012, he has stressed the importance of maintaining a combat-ready army.
"Internally, Xi has strongly condemned those who have betrayed the dignity of the PLA," said Ni Lexiong , a specialist in military and diplomatic affairs based in Shanghai. "They haven't fought for this country and they're just profiting from the efforts of revolutionaries. Externally, Xi wants the army to be able to fight, and fight to win."
Under Xi, battle experience is regarded as an important criteria for promotion. Zhang earned his spurs as a company captain in the Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979 and was promoted to deputy battalion commander because of his performance. He fought in the border war with Vietnam in 1984 and led as a regimental commander. Zhang's success in that campaign boosted his reputation as a battle-hardened officer.
Zhang also enjoys a close family connection to Xi. Both their fathers were leaders in the First Field Army during the civil war. Zhang's father was a deputy commander, while Xi Zhongxun was the deputy political commissar.
"Zhang has military credentials, as a princeling general and someone with real combat experience," said Bo Zhiyue, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore's East Asian Institute. "Liu doesn't have this record, so he cannot be singled out as a prospect for promotion on his own."
According to several sources, including foreign diplomats and retired senior officials, many generals have been implicated by Xi's anti-corruption drive.
"Xi is making moves against many powerful families and factions, so of course he wants to have complete command of the guns as he heads into this uncharted territory," the second source said.
Xi is poised to streamline and consolidate the CMC.
As many as six positions on the CMC could be reshuffled, the sources said; those born before 1950 would be weeded out.
"The larger the scale of the reshuffle, the easier it will be," Bo said. "Xi can say, 'If we fight a real war in the future, we need younger people who are more loyal to the party'. It's easier than reshuffling individuals, which is more personal and controversial."