No new generals named on Chinese military anniversary as Xi Jinping breaks with tradition

Promotions usually announced to boost morale, but analysts say they’re ‘not a must’ for president and he prefers to elevate people based on merit and need

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 3:14pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping broke with tradition by choosing not to name any new generals during the People’s Liberation Army anniversary this year, a move analysts say shows a preference for promoting people based only on merit and need.

It was also the first time Xi did not announce any promotions during the event since he took over as head of the world’s biggest army in late 2012.

Military analysts said this could become “standard practice” in the future, with Xi preferring to elevate talent based on their performance in combat drills as well as the political climate.

In the past, new generals have been named on the eve of the PLA’s anniversary on August 1 as a way to boost morale within the military. Nearly 30 people have been given the full general title since Xi took over in 2012 to last year – with 27 of those announced on the traditional anniversary eve.

Last year, the president promoted nearly 140 people to the ranks of lieutenant general, major general and general ahead of the twice-a-decade Communist Party congress in October.

“Xi has named many new, young generals in the past five years since he began his sweeping overhaul of the military, which is also aimed at reinvigorating the PLA,” Hong Kong-based military observer Liang Guoliang said.

“These promotions have helped to boost military morale at this time, with big changes under way and with many of the older generals retiring.”

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Among the promotions announced ahead of the party congress last year were new air force commander Ding Laihang and navy chief Shen Jinlong, both of whom were elevated from regional roles. Previously, these jobs had gone to deputies already working at the headquarters.

Song Zhongping, a former member of the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps, said Xi had shown that he was unwilling to follow the traditional rules on promotion and more likely to elevate the top performers, especially those who were “combat ready” and knowledgeable about modern warfare.

“Xi will announce promotions on days like the eve of August 1, but it’s not a must for him – it’s just based on whether people merit the promotion and also the political need,” said Song, who is now a military commentator for Phoenix TV.

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In 2015, Xi announced a huge military overhaul aimed at transforming the 2.3 million-strong PLA into a smaller, more nimble and world-class fighting force. The reforms have seen 300,000 jobs axed, seven military regions reduced to five theatre commands, and the PLA’s four headquarters replaced with 15 small departments.

During the 91st anniversary last week, military mouthpiece PLA Daily ran a series of editorials playing up Xi’s warning that the armed forces should be on high alert at a time when China is facing a complicated situation and threats both at home and overseas.

In one, the Taiwan Travel Act signed into law by US President Donald Trump – allowing American officials to step up exchanges with the self-ruled island – was highlighted as a case of Washington interfering in “China’s internal affairs”.

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The PLA was also urged in a separate editorial to fully implement Xi’s order to wipe out all profit-making operations, which is part of the military overhaul. Targets for reform included shows being put on by PLA troupes, military hospitals accepting civilian patients, military warehouses or barracks being leased to commercial firms, and military construction companies taking on contract work.

Song said the editorials were evidence of Xi ramping up the pressure on the PLA to modernise, but he said working out how to remove all profit-making services would be challenging. Xi has given the military until the end of the year to make the change.

“Getting rid of paid-for services involves a wide range of issues … because there are still many internal contradictions involved,” Song said, adding that it would be impossible to tackle the problem of military services accepting payments, which had been happening since China opened up in the 1980s.