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.

Cambodia prosecutes Chinese woman

A Chinese businesswoman in Phnom Penh became the center of an uproar in Cambodia and in China over an act of disrespect toward the “King Father of Cambodia,” Norodom Sihanouk, who died of a heart attack at age of 89 in Beijing on Oct. 15.

On Oct. 22, the 44 year-old Chinese manager of a Cambodian clothes factory named Wang Xiaojiao grew frustrated with Cambodian workers in her factory for conducting prolonged mourning rituals in honor of their dead king during working hours. While urging them to go back to work, Ms. Wang picked up a Sihanouk photo and tore it up in front of her workers.

Her arrest followed in short order. A Cambodian court promptly convicted her and sentenced her to a suspended one year jail term, a $750 fine and immediate deportation.

Before the deportation was carried out, the Cambodian police forced Ms. Wang to kneel down and kowtow to a Sihanouk portrait in front of a crowd of several thousands.

This incident would have faded away quietly had there not been a series of official statements from senior Chinese government officials.

“The lady’s behavior is very stupid, and we are also very angry with her,” Yang Tianyue, the spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Cambodia told China Radio International at the time of the court ruling.

The next day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei announced in Beijing that “King Sihanouk was a great friend of the Chinese people, deeply loved by the Cambodian people. The individual action of this woman was extremely wrong, and she should be prosecuted by the Cambodian side according to its law.”

Statements condemning Ms. Wang by high-ranking Chinese officials quickly drew fire from a befuddled and angry Internet crowd in China.

“What kneeled down was not a woman, but a nation called China!” one blogger opined.

“It’s true that King Sihanouk should not be insulted, but should a Chinese person be insulted as well?” another blogger asked in anger. “The Chinese woman has clearly been insulted by the Cambodian authorities, is our Foreign Ministry blind to our own humiliations?”

Cambodia is China’s best hope to drive a wedge in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and Phnom Penh has been closely following China’s instructions in defusing the South China Sea territorial claims with four of the ASEAN’s 10 member states.

In the summer, under pressure from China, Cambodia, as the host nation of the ASEAN foreign ministers’ annual summit, intervened vigorously to cause a breakdown of the long-honored tradition of issuing a joint statement to stress ASEAN unity.

Since 1970 when he was deposed by the pro-U.S. Gen. Lon Nol and Cambodia’s National Assembly, Sihanouk had become Beijing’s most treasured bargaining chip to influence Southeast Asian affairs.

China in turn had given Sihanouk the royal treatment with the most luxurious extravaganza imaginable in the Communist nation. For the past several decades, Sihanouk had become the ultimate symbol of an international freeloader among many in China.

• Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.

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