Military reshuffle begins period of political change in China
WITH WEEKS to go before a once-in-a-decade leadership transition, China has reshuffled its top military ranks as part of a raft of personnel changes ahead of the 18th Communist Party congress next month.
General Ma Xiaotian (63) was named air force commander, replacing General Xu Qiliang (62), the state broadcaster CCTV reported. General Ma is a high-profile member of the People’s Liberation Army, which has 2.3 million soldiers – he speaks at overseas events and spearheads efforts to raise the profile of the Chinese military abroad, including talks with US defence officials.
General Xu is one of eight members of the military commission, which is headed by President Hu Jintao, also the ruling Communist Party’s top official.
With only weeks to go until the congress on November 8th, the ruling elite is busily preparing for the biggest event in the Communist Party calendar.
Mr Hu is widely expected to step down as party chief during the congress, and as president during the annual session of parliament next March. Anointed successor Vice President Xi Jinping will almost certainly take over both posts.
Earlier this week, the Politburo met to discuss amending a proposal to change the party constitution, in which “Mao Zedong Theory” was not mentioned, which is a significant development as it could mean a break with the past.
In contrast to the breakneck expansion of the Chinese economy, and the astonishing development of the country, China’s political system remains formally unchanged from the Communist, Marxist-Leninist model recognisable from the Cold War era.
A Politburo meeting on party doctrine chaired by Mr Hu emphasised the party doctrines of Mr Hu, former leader Jiang Zemin and Deng Xiaoping, the man credited with being the architect of reform in China.
There has also been widespread talk that Xi Jinping has been meeting with Hu Deping, son of a reformist former leader, which is seen as a sign that Mr Xi is taking a reformist tack, although others point out that future leaders meet with all factions at this time.
Also, intriguingly, former president Jiang, who was feared dead a year ago, has made a number of high-profile appearances of late, suggesting that his influence remains a factor in the formation of the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo.
The reshuffle takes place against the backdrop of a possible leftist revival, after a group of Chinese leftists issued a public letter calling on the country’s parliament not to expel disgraced former top leader Bo Xilai from its ranks, saying the move is legally questionable and politically motivated.