China has appointed a new army chief of staff and other top officers in the runup to next month’s national leadership transition, amid efforts to further professionalize the world’s largest standing military and ensure its loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The Chinese Ministry of National Defense yesterday announced that Fang Fenghui (房峰輝) is taking over as chief administrator of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with responsibilities for supervising recruiting, training and other key functions.
The appointment puts Fang, a former head of the military region that includes Beijing, firmly on track for a position on the Central Military Commission overseeing the 2.3 million-member PLA. The new lineup of the 12-member body led by Chinese President and CCP leader Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) will be announced at the party’s national congress, which begins Nov. 8.
The appointments were long anticipated as part of the transition to incoming party leader and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), who, despite taking over the reins, is believed to have relatively little say in the naming of new military leaders. Instead, the selections reflect the choices of Hu, who oversaw the advancement of officers such as Fang during his decade in power.
Hu promoted Fang to full general in 2010, one year after commanding an elaborate and highly prestigious military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the communist state.
China’s armed forces have undergone a massive upgrading in weapons and tactics in recent years, spurred by double-digit percentage increases in the defense budget and Beijing’s increasing willingness to assert its maritime territorial claims.
Meanwhile, Liu Qibao (劉奇葆), a loyal ally of Hu, is the front-runner to become propaganda minister, two sources said, but while media-savvy, Liu is unlikely to drastically loosen tight controls.
“Liu Qibao is likely to take over as propaganda minister unless there is a change at the last minute,” one source said, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions for discussing secretive elite politics.
A second source confirmed that Liu was the front-runner for the position.
The post is vital to both instilling confidence in the party and its policies and ensuring a monopoly on the flow of information, something which is getting harder in modern, wired China, with Web sites and several feisty new publications straining at the leash to uncover corruption and abuse of power.
Whoever runs it will be in charge of disseminating official policy and viewpoints, as well as trying to combat rumors spread by the growing lack of public trust in mainstream state-run media’s often mundane and occasionally dubious reporting.
Liu, 59, is currently party boss of the populous southwestern province of Sichuan, a job he was given in 2007. He won plaudits for rebuilding areas struck by the massive 2008 earthquake in which at least 87,000 people died.
Liu can be media-savvy, engaging ordinary people’s problems via online questions and using the popular Twitter-like microblog Sina Weibo to send messages, unusual for a senior Chinese official.
“Speaking the truth — these are the best words you can use,” state media quoted Liu as telling a forum last year. “If you want the people to tell you the truth, then officials have to be brave enough to hear the truth, and they must create the right conditions for it.”
Yet he has taken a hardline approach to tackling a surge of self-immolations and protests in restive ethnic Tibetan parts of the province, and has locked up some dissidents.
He has also come down hard on Sichuan-based dissidents, including Tan Zuoren (譚作人), serving five years for subversion after documenting shoddy construction that contributed to deaths in the 2008 quake.