Hu Jintao's weak grip on China's army inspired Xi Jinping's military shake-up: sources
President's predecessor 'isolated' by deputies who acted as proxies for Jiang Zemin: sources
President Xi Jinping grew determined to shake up the army after he saw first-hand how his predecessor Hu Jintao was treated as a mere figurehead by his deputies, sources told the South China Morning Post.
Xi, who became the Central Military Commission's third vice-chairman in 2010, witnessed how his fellow vice-chairmen Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong took over the army's staff affairs right under Hu's nose, a military source said.
China watchers had long suspected Hu's grip on the army was weak. He succeeded former president Jiang Zemin as CMC chair only in 2004, two years after he took over from Jiang as party secretary. Even then, Jiang remained influential, installing his trusted aides Xu and Guo as Hu's deputies.
"Xu and Guo are Jiang's proxies. They left Hu isolated," a retired senior colonel said.
A source close to the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Sciences said: "Jiang continued to wield influence over military decisions through Xu and Guo."
Even the Americans came to doubt Hu's control. In 2011, the PLA conducted a surprise test flight of its first stealth fighter jet, the Jian-20, during then US defence minister Robert Gates' visit to Beijing. Gates saw that Hu was as stunned by the news as he was.
"It was clear the civilian leadership was uninformed," a senior United States official told the media that day. Gates later also said he had had "concerns about [Hu's weak control in the army] over time".
On Monday, retired major general Yang Chunchang confirmed to mainland-linked Phoenix Television that Xu and his faction had monopolised power in the military and isolated the CMC "top leader".
The military academy source said Xu, who was in charge of PLA personnel, blatantly exchanged promotions for bribes and made decisions without informing Hu.
The retired senior colonel said Guo was also responsible for sidelining Hu.
So when Xi took over from Hu in 2012, he made sure that he assumed all three key positions - president, party secretary and CMC chairman - at once and launched a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown soon after.
Last year, Xu came under investigation, becoming the most senior PLA general probed for taking bribes.
Another retired major general said Xu allegedly promoted a commander in exchange for a 20-million-yuan (HK$25 million) bribe. Such stories tarnished the army's reputation, he said.
A source close to the Guangzhou Military Command said Xu's corrupt practices were widely known.
"Many retired and serving senior officials in the Guangzhou Military Command support the investigation against Xu … He broke rules as he liked."