During his period as China’s paramount leader, President Jiang Zemin handpicked Xi [Jinping] for senior office because the younger man was perceived to lack ambition, according to sources with close ties to the Chinese leadership. Xi was also thought to be a pliable candidate because he lacked a power base, one source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But as China’s top leader, he has shown a willingness to impose radical change at the top of the party, government and military.
“When I talk to my mainland friends, they all say he is a risk taker,” said Andrew Yang Nien-Dzu, former defense minister of Taiwan. “You never know what his next move will be.”
From the beginning, Xi’s corruption purge and promotion of loyal officers made it clear he had big plans for the PLA [People’s Liberation Army]. Then, in mid-2015, he cut 300,000 mostly non-combat and administrative personnel before launching a sweeping overhaul of the military structure.
He broke up the four sprawling, Maoist-era “general departments” of the PLA that had become powerful, highly autonomous and deeply corrupt, said Li [Nan] from the National University of Singapore. Xi replaced them with 15 new agencies that report directly to the Central Military Commission he chairs.
He also scrapped the seven geographically based military regions and replaced them with five joint-service theater commands. These new regional commands, comparable to those that govern the U.S. armed forces, are responsible for military operations and have a strong focus on combining air, land, naval and other capabilities of the Chinese armed forces to suit modern warfare.
Xi also promoted favored commanders, many of them officers he knew in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, where he served the bulk of his early career as an official, according to Chinese and Western observers of the PLA. Others hail from his home province of Shaanxi or are fellow princelings.
At the 19th Party Congress in October 2017, Xi further tightened his grip over the top military leadership, paring the Central Military Commission from 11 members to seven and stacking it with loyalists. Xi knew most of them from Shaanxi and Fujian.
As he burnishes his military credentials, Xi draws on his early service in uniform. In speeches to military audiences, he describes himself as a soldier-turned-official, according to reports in the state-controlled media. In distinctive PLA camouflage fatigues, cap and combat boots, he has overseen some of the biggest military parades since the 1949 Communist victory. In the most recent of these displays, Xi has taken the salute from the troops without sharing the podium with the usual line-up of fellow party leaders and elders.
In a massive naval exercise in April last year, Xi boarded the guided-missile destroyer Changsha to review the Chinese fleet of 48 warships in the South China Sea. State-run television showed the navy commander, Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong, and navy political commissar, Vice Admiral Qin Shengxiang, standing to attention as they reported to Xi and saluted. Xi then gave the order for the exercise to proceed.
Both navy chiefs are Xi protégés. Shen has been rapidly promoted under Xi, leapfrogging other, more senior officers, according to Chinese and Western analysts. Qin had worked closely with the Chinese leader in a top post in the Central Military Commission before his promotion in 2017 to his navy role, China’s official military media reported.
Xi was also in fatigues again in July 2017 at a massive military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the PLA at the Zhurihe training ground in Inner Mongolia. He took the salute from the parade commander, General Han Weiguo, an officer who served in Fujian while Xi was a party and government official in the province. Han has enjoyed a meteoric rise under Xi, being promoted to command China’s ground forces shortly after this parade.
“Xi Jinping is obsessed with military parades,” said Willy Lam Wo-lap, a veteran observer of personnel movements in China’s military and political elites and a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “He loves these demonstrations of raw power.” [Continue reading…]