China shuffled three senior military officials amid political horse-trading at the highest echelons of the Communist Party before a once-a-decade leadership transition next month.
General Ma Xiaotian, the army’s deputy chief of staff, was named to lead China’s air force, while Zhu Fuxi, former director of the air force’s political department, replaces Tian Xiusi as political commissar of the Chengdu area, Caixin magazine reported yesterday, citing an unidentified military source. Tian becomes air force political commissar, it said.
The moves are part of a broader changes within the party and the People’s Liberation Army ahead of the Communist Party Congress, when Vice President Xi Jinping is forecast to replace Hu Jintao as party general secretary and as president next year. China’s factions vie to to insert loyalists in a range of positions as part of the secretive transition process, which was roiled by the ouster of Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai earlier this year.
“In every transition, the new leaders, like Hu Jintao in early 2000’s and Jiang Zemin in the 1990’s, have to promote their people to consolidate their influence,” said Ho-Fung Hung, an associate professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University who focuses on China. “At the same time, it could be that Hu is using his last few months to promote his own people to perpetuate his influence.”
Calls to the mobile phone of Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng went unanswered today. The Defense Ministry also didn’t respond to a fax seeking comment.
Ma has been a public face of China’s army, meeting Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in September and U.S. defense officials last year. The appointment means he will be named to the powerful Central Military Commission, said Huang Jing, a political science professor at the National University of Singapore.
“Ma Xiaotian’s promotion is not really unexpected because if you look at the air force, there really isn’t anyone else who can take the position,” Huang said.
China’s defense spending has more than doubled since 2006 as it carries out a broad modernization plan, and it announced in March that it planned to spend about 670 billion yuan ($107 billion) this year. The U.S., with an economy less than three times the size of China’s, has a military budget between five and six times as big.