Xi’s Cultivation of the PLA

Last week, Xi Jinping promoted six senior military officers to the rank of full general, consolidating his influence within the . From Minnie Chan at South China Morning Post:

Cai Yingting, 59, chief of the Nanjing military region, and Xu Fenlin , commander of the Guangzhou Military Region, were awarded their ranks by Xi in his capacity as chairman of the PLA’s Central Military Commission (CMC) at its head office in Beijing yesterday, the online edition of PLA Daily reported.

[…] Macau-based military commentator Antony Wong Dong said the promotions showed Xi was anxious to build his own team of PLA leaders, with Cai and Xu being two rising stars who will become his key aides in the army.

“The promotion took place on the eve of the PLA’s founding anniversary, highlighting the importance of these six generals, who will help Xi implement reforms in the army,” Wong said. [Source]

Some political watchers believe that Xi, with his princeling identity and military experience, is in a better position to address military problems than his predecessors. From Cary Huang at South China Morning Post:

Analysts say Xi, as the son of a revolutionary hero, might have greater clout than Jiang and Hu to win the trust of the top brass, and thus get the necessary political support to push for policy change.

[…] Unlike his predecessors, Xi also had military experience. He served as personal secretary to defence minister and Central Military Commission secretary general Geng Biao , his father’s former subordinate, between 1979 and 1982.

Tsui said that experience gave Xi “some deeper knowledge of what military strategy means”, which had also helped him gain the respect of generals and professional soldiers.

Analysts note that Xi has moved quickly to deal with three key problems in the armed forces: lax discipline, declining morale and rampant . [Source]

After the sacking of general Gu Junshan over corruption last year further shadowed PLA’s public image, Xi has started to tackle military corruption with greater resolution than his predecessors, according to Wang Xiangwei at South China Morning Post:

In Gu’s case, he was removed as deputy director of the PLA’s Logistics Department in February last year amid allegations of massive corruption. He was in charge of construction of military barracks, which gave him ample opportunities to make money through land requisitions and development.

In the name of national defence, the PLA usually receives land for free, which allows senior officers such as Gu and Wang to sell land to property developers for huge personal gains. There is also credible speculation the officers misappropriated military funds for drinking binges and other extravagances.

This partly explains why Xi launched an anti-corruption drive targeting the military when he came to power in November.

He has since issued directives banning drinking, forbidden officers from leasing their number plates and undertaken comprehensive audits of military-owned assets. While Xi has earned praise for showing a greater willingness in tackling corruption than his predecessors did, such moves are small given the scale of the military sleaze. [Source]

At the same time, technology upgrades are also on the blueprint for the PLA’s future. From Minnie Chan at South China Morning Post:

In a rare online interview on the People’s Daily website coinciding with the People’s Liberation Army’s 68th anniversary on Tuesday, Senior Colonel Gong Fangbin, a professor at the PLA National Defence University, said the armed forces faced new challenges amid the rapid evolution of technology. He said the Edward Snowden case reflected the growing importance of cyberwarfare to global military competition.

“If a war broke out in the South and East China seas, it would certainly not be the kind of battle [the PLA] has experienced in the past, but a hi-tech military operation,” Gong said.

Gong Fangbin also stressed that PLA “should always remain under the leadership of the Communist Party“.