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Stage set for China army leadership change

Sending a signal that the stage was set for leadership change early November, China on Thursday appointed a new army chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and announced the names of several other senior officers for top positions.

world Updated: Oct 26, 2012 00:44 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Sending a signal that the stage was set for leadership change early November, China on Thursday appointed a new army chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and announced the names of several other senior officers for top positions.

The new appointments come a day after an earlier reshuffle of the top military brass during which a new air force chief was also announced.

The 2.3 million strong PLA, the largest armed forces in the world, remains in the shadow of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC).

But for the civilian leadership it’s been traditionally crucial to ensure there’s no sign of any internecine struggle for power within the vast army and between the political hierarchy and the armed forces.

The government doesn’t comment on the new appointments but it reshuffle could be seen as sign that civilian CPC leadership was in control of China’s powerful military.

The Chinese armed forces have seen huge upgrades in its cache of weapons, technology and expertise in the last decades; it recently launched its first aircraft carrier and is reported to be developing a stealth fighter aircraft.

Earlier this year, China raised its defence budget by 11.2% to 670 billion Yuan ($106.4 billion) in 2012; the new budget was 67.6 billion Yuan more than the defence expenditure in 2011.

On Thursday, it was announced that General Fang Fenghui, commander of the Beijing Military Region was taking over as PLA’s chief administrator.

The appointment puts Fang, on track for a position on the Central Military Commission (CMC), which oversees the PLA. The new lineup of CMC is expected to be announced after 18th CPC Congress begins November 8.

According to agency reports, the appointments were long anticipated as part of the shift to power under Xi Jinping, expected to be taking over from Hu Jintao as President.

The selections, reports said, reflect the choices of outgoing Hu – the current head of the CMC -- who oversaw the promotion of officers such as Fang during his decade in power; Fang was promoted to full general by Hu in 2010.

Earlier, General Ma Xiaotian, 63, the Deputy Chief of the PLA was named air force commander, replacing General Xu Qiliang, 50. While Xu is expected to take up a far bigger role in the CMC, Ma regarded as a key figure in strategic defence dialogues.

The PLA’s three other top army staff positions also received new directors. General Zhao Keshi was named head of logistics, General Zhang Youxia as head of armaments, and General Zhang Yang as director of the political department, the Chinese defence ministry said.