Xi drops generals in continued military shakeup
China’s military is preparing a sweeping leadership reshuffle, dropping top generals, including two that sources say are under investigation for corruption.
The changes would make room for President Xi Jinping to install trusted allies in key positions at a party congress that begins October 18, 2017.
A list of 303 military delegates to the Communist Party Congress, published by the army’s official newspaper, excluded Fang Fenghui and Zhang Yang, both members of the Central Military Commission. The commission is China’s top military decision-making body.
Reuters reported that the 66-year-old Fang, pictured, who accompanied Xi to his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in April 2017, is being questioned on suspicion of corruption.
Three sources familiar with the matter said Zhang, director of the military’s Political Work Department, is also the subject of a probe. China’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
The personnel changes herald a clean sweep of the top-ranking generals heading up the department. All three of Zhang’s deputies – Jia Tingan, Du Hengyan and Wu Changde – were also missing from the list of congress delegates.
“This is a very clear message: They’re out,” said Cheng Li, a Brookings Institution expert on Chinese elite politics. “Their political careers have come to an end.”
News reports in early September 2017 carried by the People’s Liberation Army Daily newspaper and the official news agency Xinhua abruptly referred to the navy’s political commissar, Miao Hua, as the Political Work Department director, despite no official announcement of Zhang being replaced.
The department is in charge of inspiring political thought and makes military personnel decisions. The Political Work Department used to be headed by Xu Caihou, who along with a fellow former vice chairman of the military commission, Guo Boxiong, was accused of taking bribes in exchange for promotions. Guo was jailed for life in 2016, while Xu died of cancer in 2015 before he could face trial.
Also among the key omissions from the list published in September 2017 were Du Jincai, who was replaced as the military’s anti-corruption chief in March 2017, and Cai Yingting, who left his post as head of the army’s Academy of Military Science in January 2017.
Taking into account officials who are likely to retire, as many as seven of the 11 spots on the military commission may be vacated, strengthening talk in Chinese political circles that the body may be streamlined.
Xi, who is commander in chief of China’s armed forces, currently chairs the commission, which also has two vice chairmen and eight committee members. Two sources familiar with the matter said the commission may be cut down to Xi and four vice chairmen, doing away with committee members and streamlining reporting lines.
Li, the Brookings expert, said that among those likely to be central to the army’s refreshed leadership were Miao; Li Zuocheng, who took over from Fang as chief of the Joint Staff Department in August 2017; and the three commanders of the army’s ground, air and naval forces: Han Weiguo, Ding Laihang and Shen Jinlong.
The fact that all five were newly appointed in 2017 and were not members of the Communist Party’s 200-odd strong Central Committee, Li said, reflected the extent to which Xi was rejuvenating the leadership.
“This is really a major step from Xi Jinping to consolidate his authority to promote the young, those who have some professional experience,” but are “not corrupted and certainly not belonging to the factions of Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou,” he said.