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The Generals are back ...and out?
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Claude Arpi | Date:27 Jan , 2018 0 Comments
Claude Arpi
Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

Reuters reported yesterday that China’s Ministry of National Defence (MND) has denied that former Senior Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission, General Fan Changlong was being investigated on suspicion of corruption.

Asked whether Fan was being probed, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, the MND spokesman would have quoted an article which appeared on January 18 in the People’s Liberation Army Daily about soldiers’ training; in it, Fan talked about the importance of military drills.

Though The South China Morning Post had earlier reported that Fan was being investigated, Col Wu affirmed: “As for this rumor, I suggest you read the article in the January 18 edition of the People’s Liberation Army Daily, ‘On using the fervor of troop training to answer the question of winning in battle’.”

Pictures of Fan, looking relaxed in civilian clothes and writing calligraphy, had appeared on Chinese social media, said Reuters.

Now, the strange thing is that the comment of the spokesperson does not appear in the official transcript of the press conference.


The PLA seems to be in turmoil.

The Generals are back

At the same time, generals are reentering regional politics.

On December 27, The Global Times announced that Major General Ling Xi was appointed a member of Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Shanghai Municipal Committee. The tabloid said that it was a signal that military leaders are now back in the regional Party leadership: “Ling is the political commissar of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Shanghai Garrison. Previously he served as deputy director of the political department of the Nanjing Military Command.”

The mouthpiece of the Communist Part added: “Since the 1950s, provincial military leaders were usually appointed to a seat in the standing committee of the provincial-level CPC committee to participate in decision making and strengthen communication between the government and the military. That practice was temporarily suspended in November 2016 as provincial-level military commanders were no longer listed in the standing committee.”

The then MND spokesman, Sr Col Yang Yujun had told the media in December 2016 that the temporary removal of military leaders from the standing committees of the provincial CPC committees was due to a major military overhaul and that once the relevant reform was completed, military leaders would return to the provincial Party leader group.

Does it mean that the military reforms are completed?

Probably partially.

A new list

Later a list of commanders and political commissars of 15 provincial military districts/garrisons went around. It was said that they had joined the provincial Party Standing Committees where they serve.

Here is the list:

  • Jiang Yong, Beijing Garrison, political commissar
  • Ling Xi, Shanghai Garrison, political commissar
  • Feng Yi, Hunan Military District, political commissar
  • Wang Bianjiang, Liaoning Military District, political commissar
  • Pu Yongneng, Gansu Military District, political commissar
  • Wei Xiaodong, Hebei Military District, political commissar
  • Meng Zhongkang, Jiangsu Military District, political commissar
  • Yang Xiaoxiang, Jiangxi Military District, political commissar
  • Jiang Yingyu, Guangxi Military District, political commissar
  • Zhang Liming, Guangdong Military District, commander
  • Zhao Jilu, Shandong Military District, commander
  • Yang Zheng, Anhui Military District, commander
  • Jiang Yongshen, Sichuan Military District, commander
  • Chen Shoumin, Hainan Military District, commander
  • Ma Tao, Hubei Military District, commander

Though the Tibet Military District (TMD) was not officially mentioned, it appears that Lt Gen Xu Yong, the TMD commander has started to attend the meetings of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) Standing Committee.

Military involvement on Doklam

While Lt Gen Xu’s direct boss was said to have been directed involved in the confrontation with India at the trijunction between Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim in 2017, Xu does not seem to have been affected.

The Indian Express recently commented on “who in the Chinese hierarchy ordered the extension of the track in Dolam from the point it had been constructed up to in 2003, to the Jampheri ridge? Was it President Xi Jinping, the general staff in the Central Military Commission, the Western Military Theatre Command, or the Tibetan Military Commander?”

The paper answered that the road construction was ordered by General Zhao Zongqi, commander of the Western Theatre Command. General Zhao had earlier served in Tibet and commanded the 52 Mountain Brigade in the early 1990s.

According to The Indian Express: “Even before the faceoff in Doklam, Chinese border troops had been telling Indian soldiers in daily interactions at multiple points on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that General Zhao had walked each of these tracks with military patrols over 20 years, and had been rarely confronted by the Indians. As the Indian deployment has increased over the past decade, General Zhao is unwilling to accept the challenge to Chinese claims. Not only in Doklam, but also at other places on the LAC, they have attempted track construction, representing what a senior Indian military commander said was an ego issue for General Zhao.”

It might partly be speculation, but there is no doubt about the involvement of General Zhao, who probably had forgotten to read the agreement arrived between the Indian and Chinese diplomats in 2012 for keeping the status quo at the trijunction.

It shows that China does not always speak with one voice.

General Zhao Zongqi

Zhao was born in Bin County in Heilongjiang province.

After commanding the 52 Mountain Brigade in Tibet, he was promoted deputy chief of staff of the Tibet Military District. In August 1999, he became chief of staff of the TMD, then deputy commanding officer of the Chongqing Mobilization District.

In October 2004, he was named commander of the 14th Group Army.

In September 2007, he was transferred to the 13th Group Army as commander.

In December 2007, he was named chief of staff of the general staff of the then Jinan Military Region. In November 2012 he became commander of the Jinan Military Region.

On July 31, 2015, he was promoted to the rank of general (three stars).

On February 1, 2015, he was transferred as commander of the newly created Western Theater Command looking after the Indian border.

Despite the Doklam fiasco, Zhao remained a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in November 2017.

His associate Lt Gen Xu Yong, who as commander of the TMD directly managed the operations at the trijunction does not seem to have been affected by the confrontation with India, however Gen Xu is not a member of the Central Committee.

Interestingly, Lt Gen Wang Jianwu, the TMD political commissar, who does not attend the meetings of the TAR Standing Committee, is a member of the all-powerful Central Committee.

In Party affairs, Wang is therefore senior to his Commander Xu Yong.

Posting with Chinese characteristics…

It is certain that all has not been said and written on the TMD and the areas bordering India.

One can expect many changes/surprises in 2018, especially if it is confirmed that Gen Fan Changlong is the latest ‘tiger’ to fall in the Chairman Xi’s claws.

The ideology will prevail?

The MND spokesman said yesterday: “We will fully implement the spirit of the 19th Party Congress, follow the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the new era and thoroughly implement Xi Jinping’s thinking of building a strong military.“

We shall slowly discover what it means for India.

Sr Col Wu added: “We will strengthen the four consciousnesses of the ideology, the whole, the core and the line; enhance the four confidences in the path, theories, system and culture of the Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. We will implement the general requirement of Party building in the New Era and follow the guidance of the political construction of the Party to advance the overall and strict governance of the Party in the military. We will staunchly and voluntarily uphold the authority of the CPC Central Committee, uphold President Xi as the core of the CPC Central Committee and the whole Party and uphold and implement the chairperson responsibility system of the CMC.”

Let us see what will be the concrete implications of this jargon.

But one can understand why in the TMD, the political commissar is senior to the commander: the Party’s ideology has to prevail.


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