Two new Chinese military leaders were announced Sunday for the most powerful military posts in the communist system: vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission, the organ that holds ultimate political power referred to by founder Mao Zedong as “the barrel of a gun.”
Commission vice chairmen in the past almost exclusively were chosen from the army’s infantry forces.
But the new commission vice chairmen, Gen. Fan Changlong, until recently commander of the Jinan military region, and Gen. Xu Qiliang, a former air force commander, represent a major shift for the party-run People’s Liberation Army.
Gen. Fan is an artillery advocate, and Gen. Xu is an air-power specialist. It also was the first time a regional commander, Gen. Fan, was moved directly to the vice chairmanship without first spending time as one of the 12 members of the military commission.
According to state media, the appointments reflect Chinese military reform efforts aimed at shifting from traditional ground-force-dominated troops to what Beijing calls “informationized” forces that employ high-technology weapons, intelligence and other military capabilities similar to those used by the U.S. military.
Gens. Fan and Xu will be in charge of all Chinese military operations once the two men they are replacing, Gen. Guo Boxiong and Gen. Xu Caihou, leave the commission following this week’s major 18th Communist Party Congress.
The new officers are a sign China’s military forces will continue to emphasize missiles and air power. Chinese missile forces are called the 2nd Artillery Corps.
The last remaining leadership question is who will become the commission chairman. In the past, outgoing Party leader Jiang Zemin held on to the chairmanship for two years, until it eventually was taken by current chairman and party leader Hu Jintao.
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Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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