Inside China: Major China military shift

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As the world’s most populous communist state anticipates a once-in-a-decade power transfer, a major leadership reshuffle in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) took place quietly last week.

All four chiefs of the PLA’s four main professional military commands – the General Staff and the departments of General Political Affairs, General Logistics and General Armaments – saw their leaders replaced by new commanders, some of them of little renown to most outside observers.

The four commands work directly under China’s ultimate military authority, the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, which is led by the general secretary of the party.

These units are the primary operational managers for China’s military affairs and form the essence of the party’s military command.

For the first time in the PLA’s history, none of the four command positions were filled by members of the senior brass with experience at PLA headquarters in Beijing. All four hail from the PLA’s regional commands, which are rich in operational experience.

At the top is the new chief of the General Staff, Gen. Fang Fenghui, 61, who held the post of commanding officer of the Beijing Military Region. He will be the key PLA official for the next party leadership team, in charge of military programs and operations.

Equivalent to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Fang directly reports to the chairman of the Central Military Commission, making him the most important professional military officer in China.

Gen. Zhang Yang now will be in charge of the PLA’s Department of General Political Affairs, which is responsible for ideological indoctrination, propaganda and internal military discipline.

The scandal-prone, lucrative Department of General Logistics now is headed by Gen. Zhao Keshi, formerly commander of the Nanjing Military Region.

This department is in charge of military construction, base and barracks maintenance, and general welfare of the PLA. It has access to enormous assets and funds within China’s notoriously loose internal control and auditing systems.

Several senior leaders in this department, most recently Lt. Gen. Gu Junsheng, the vice chief, were sacked on corruption charges over the last several years.

Gen. Zhang Youxia, formerly commander of the Shenyang Military Region, will be in charge of China’s massive Department of General Armaments. He is a “Red princeling” whose father, Gen. Zhang Zongxun, was chief of PLA General Logistics under Mao Zedong in the 1970s.

The PLA leadership reshuffle is widely viewed as the last major effort before the Nov. 8 meeting of the 18th Party Congress by the current leader, General Secretary Hu Jintao, to put his stamp on the future of the PLA.

State-controlled media made special mention of the fact that Mr. Hu personally signed the appointment orders promoting these four key generals.

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