Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Taiwan-focused officers promoted

MESSAGE FROM CHINA? Experts say the proportion of PRC officers holding key positions with solid experience in planning for a conflict over Taiwan has increased

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BEIJING

China last month promoted at least four senior military officers with experience in planning for war over Taiwan ahead of a key political meeting next week at which the Chinese Communist Party has said it will adopt a new strategy to stop Taiwan moving toward independence.

In a move that was quietly handled even by the standards of China's secretive military, Beijing elevated General Chen Bingde (陳炳德) of the army to chief of the general staff, a post where he will exercise day-to-day operational command of the country's 2.3 million-strong armed forces.

As Chen was promoted through the senior ranks in the 1980s and 1990s, he held a series of command posts in the Nanjing Military Region opposite Taiwan, where China has concentrated its preparations for any conflict, official biographies and military analysts say.

Chen's previous post was director general of the general armaments department, where he led the rapid modernization of Chinese military hardware and the country's high profile space program.

Xu Qiliang (許其亮), a veteran air force pilot who served in a number of operational and staff posts in the Nanjing military region, was appointed head of the air force last month, state media reported.

The media reported last month that another senior air force officer with command experience in the Nanjing region, Ma Xiaotian (馬曉天), had been promoted to deputy chief of the general staff.

In the earlier stages of a wider reshuffle of top posts through China's seven military regions, Admiral Wu Shengli (吳勝利) was appointed last year to head the navy.

Wu has also held key appointments that give him a solid grounding in naval operations in the Taiwan Strait.

Experts say these appointments are not designed specifically to threaten Taiwan but are part of China's overall military development where a top priority is enforcing it's claim of sovereignty over Taiwan if necessary.

"It sends a message more broadly that Beijing is enhancing its military capability to deal with Taiwan in any future conflict," said Andrew Yang (楊念租), secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, a Taipei-based security policy institute.

"There is more emphasis on the quality of the commanders," Yang said.

The proportion of officers holding key command positions with first-hand experience in planning for a conflict over Taiwan has been increasing in recent years, experts say.

The promotion of senior officers with exposure to planning over Taiwan comes as President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) consolidates his power over the military before the 17th party Congress scheduled to open in Beijing on Monday.

Hu, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, has overseen recent military promotions and is quite likely to support further sharp increases in defense spending, analysts say.

Some experts on the Chinese military were puzzled over the manner in which Chen's promotion was first reported.

In a short item carried in the official military newspaper and other state media Sept. 21, Chen was described as the People's Liberation Army's chief of the general staff in a report about a meeting he held with the head of Uganda's armed forces.

There has been no official announcement of his promotion to replace General Liang Guanglie (梁光烈). Some Hong Kong newspapers have reported that Liang, who once served as commander of the Nanjing military region, will become defense minister.

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