General Zhang Youxia: Xi Jinping’s ‘sworn brother’ now his deputy on China’s top military body

Zhang Youxia grew up with Chinese President and their fathers served together in army

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 6:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 October, 2017, 11:21am

General Zhang Youxia is one of the two vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission. Here we take a look at his career:

General Zhang Youxia, 67, a close ally of President Xi Jinping, was promoted to second-ranked vice-chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) at the first plenum of the Communist Party’s new Central Committee on Wednesday.

The former director of the CMC’s Equipment Development Department is widely considered one of the men party chief and CMC chairman Xi trusts most. Military experts said his family background had made him a hot tip for a CMC vice-chairmanship in Xi’s second five-year term.

Both Xi and Zhang are Shaanxi natives and “second-generation reds” – the children of revolutionaries. Their fathers were comrades from the 1940s.

“Xi once saw Zhang, who is three years older than him, as his elder brother, and so did Xi’s sisters,” a Shanghai-based retired People’s Liberation Army (PLA) senior colonel told the South China Morning Post.

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“What Xi now needs is not talent, but people who absolutely obey his orders, and Zhang is one of the people in his camp he can rely on.”

Zhang’s father, General Zhang Zongxun, was the PLA’s head of logistics in the 1970s, but three decades earlier, in 1947, he commanded the PLA’s Northeast Army Corps, when Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, was its political commissar.

The senior colonel said Zhang had been a “sworn brother” of Xi’s since childhood because their fathers had both been purged during the Cultural Revolution. That bitter early experience led the children of the two families to adopt a lower profile than other “princelings”.

The CMC is the PLA’s top decision-making body and Hong Kong-based military observer Liang Guoliang said Zhang’s promotion would smooth the way for Xi’s ambitious plans to transform it into a truly modern army.

“Zhang is well known for his good character and sociability, which will help unify opinion to help Xi carry out his reforms,” Liang said.

The younger Zhang joined the army at 18 and was assigned to the 14th Group Army, based in Kunming, Yunnan. He was 26-year-old company commander during the Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979.

“Like father, like son, Zhang was born to be a commander,” Liang said.

Within 16 years, following his exploits during the 1984 border conflict with Vietnam, he rose to the rank of colonel.

Zhang and Li Zuocheng, the head the Joint Staff Department, are the only two members of the new seven-member CMC to have seen active service, both having taken part in the campaigns against Vietnam.

“Zhang is one of the rare senior military officers with battle experience to have pledged loyalty to Xi,” a source close to the former Guangzhou military command said.

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Last month, the PLA Daily reported that Lieutenant General Li Shangfu, a 59-year-old space expert, had succeeded Zhang as head of China’s military equipment development programme.

The General Armament Department that Zhang oversaw during Xi’s first five-year term included China’s lunar exploration and manned space projects, and he has been a strong advocate of Xi’s integration of military and civilian projects, part of the president’s wider military reforms.

At the Beijing Aviation Expo in Beijing two years ago, Zhang inspected the Chinese-made and designed C919 passenger jet

The aircraft is the largest aircraft designed and built in China since the defunct Shanghai Y-10 military transport plane, which was scrapped in 1986 amid financial and technical problems.

“As Xi is sparing no effort to promote the integration of military and civilian development, Zhang’s working experience will help Xi to push the mission forward after he takes the second key role in the CMC,” Liang said.

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