Hu Confers Hardliner Top Military Rank

Publication: China Brief Volume: 9 Issue: 15

China's Central Military Commission (CMC) Chairman Hu Jintao (C) poses with newly-promoted generals.

Beijing instituted a new round of personnel changes among the top-ranking officers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its general departments. According to official state-media, Central Military Commission (CMC) Chairman and PRC President Hu Jintao conferred three senior military officers the rank of general on July 20 (Xinhua News Agency, July 20). A raft of personnel changes that were made recently runs the gamut of the PLA’s general departments: General Staff Headquarters, General Political Department, General Logistics Department and General Armaments Department (Nanfang Daily, July 10; China Military Online, July 10).

The three senior officers promoted to the rank of general are Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the PLA Ma Xiaotian; Political Commissar of the PLA’s Academy of Military Sciences Liu Yuan; and Political Commissar of Chengdu Military Area Command Zhang Haiyang. The conferment of Ma, Liu and Zhang represents the coming of age of a generation of PLA stars, whose meteoric rise to the upper echelons of the military establishment has been closely tied to Hu.

Ma, who now directs the PLA’s high-level military diplomacy and intelligence operations, has a long career in the Chinese air force, and is leading the Chinese delegation in the resumed U.S.-China defense dialogue, which had been suspended due to Beijing’s objections to U.S. sale of advanced weaponry to Taiwan (Ta Kung Pao, July 21). Ma is noted for his critical stance toward what he sees as the expansion of [U.S.] military alliances in the Asia-Pacific (Straits Time, June 1, 2008).  

Both Zhang and Liu are "princelings," a reference to the offspring of party elders or retired generals. Their successive appointment up the military ranks affirms Hu’s tactic of trying to build up his credentials as the commander-in-chief—Hu himself lacks personal military experience—by elevating the sons of First- and Second-Generation revolutionaries to senior PLA slots. It is interesting to note that Zhang and Liu, although coming from different branches of the Chinese military, have risen up the ranks almost lock-step with one another. Zhang Haiyang is the son of former CMC Vice-Chairman and Politburo member General Zhang Zhen.

Liu Yuan’s promotion, the son of late Chinese statesmen Liu Shaoqi—purged by Mao during the Cultural Revolution—has caught considerable media attention. Liu is referred to as the leader of a faction in the PLA described by the media as the “young turks” (shao zhuang pai), which is composed of realists, nationalists and foreign policy hardliners (Nownews [Taiwan], July 21). Liu is known for his tough stance on Taiwan, made infamous by his statement responding to remarks in Taipei about an alleged plan to bomb the Three Gorges Dam in case of a Chinese attack by telling the media that an air strike by Taiwan "will provoke a retaliation [against Taiwan] that will ‘blot out the sky and cover up the earth’" (See China Brief, "The end of the Sino-American honeymoon?", July 18, 2004).
Other personnel changes in the PLA’s general departments include:

In the General Staff Department:

•    Chief of Staff of the Shenyang Military Region Lieutenant General Hou Shusen was promoted to deputy chief of the PLA Headquarters of the General Staff.
•    Dean of the Nanjing Army Command College Major General Chen Yong was promoted to assistant chief of staff for the PLA Headquarters of the General Staff.
•    Assistant Chief of Staff for the PLA General Staff Headquarters Major General Yang Zhiqi is retiring.
•    Deputy Chief of Staff of the PLA General Headquarter and Commander of the Guangzhou Military Region General Liu Zhenwu is retiring.

In the General Armament Department:

•    Chief of Staff for the PLA General Armaments Department Major General Niu Hongguang was promoted to deputy director of the PLA General Armaments Department.
•    Deputy Director of the PLA General Armament Department Lieutenant General Zhang Jianqi is retiring.

In the General Political Department:

•    Assistant Director PLA General Political Department Major General Xu Yaoyuan was conferred the rank of lieutenant general.

In the General Logistics Department:

•    Deputy Director of the PLA General Logistics Department Major General Ding Jiye was conferred the rank of lieutenant general.
•    Deputy Director of the PLA General Logistics Department Major General Tai Yinghe was conferred the rank of lieutenant general.
•    Deputy Director of the PLA General Logistics Department Lieutenant General Wang Qian is retiring.

(Source: Nanfang Daily, July10; Wenwei Po, July 10; ETaiwan News, July 10)