China military reshuffle nears completion

By Kathrin Hille in Beijing

China’s new military leadership team looks set to strike a fine balance between allies of the outgoing Communist party chief Hu Jintao and his expected successor Xi Jinping.

The Ministry of Defence announced the second wave of top brass promotions in three days, appointing four more generals on Thursday to positions which guarantee them seats on the country’s top military leadership body.

The reshuffle, which is now almost complete, makes the generational transition in the military more transparent than expected. The final line-up is not due until after the close of the Communist party’s 18th congress, which will also appoint a new civilian leadership, in mid-November.

General Fang Fenghui, the commander of the military region encompassing Beijing, has been made chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army. 61-year-old Gen Fang is seen as an ally of Mr Hu.

General Zhang Youxia, who has been commanding the Shenyang military region in the country’s northeast, now heads the department in charge of developing and buying weapons. Gen Zhang, 62, is a considered to be a “princeling” – a term that refers to politicians who are the children of top officials – because, like Mr Xi, his father was a senior military officer.

General Wei Fenghe was promoted from chief of staff of the 2nd Artillery, the country’s strategic missile force, to its commander. Gen Wei, relatively young at 58, represents the PLA’s drive to become younger, more professional and strengthen the forces other than the army in the military leadership.

General Zhao Keshi has been elevated from commander of the Nanjing Military Region to lead the General Logistics Department.

The promotions follow the appointment of a new air force chief and a new top political officer on Tuesday. All six men were promoted to posts which give them automatic representation on the 12-member Central Military Commission, the body that leads the PLA.

The reshuffle leaves open only the top posts on the CMC, although Hu Jintao is expected to stay on as chairman for a few more years, with Xi Jinping remaining as vice-chairman.

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