China Names Two to Military Commission Ahead of Power Shift

General Xu Qiliang
General Xu Qiliang attends the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5, 2012. Photographer: Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images

The Chinese Communist Party Central Committee named two generals as vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission, marking the beginning of two weeks of appointments as part of a once-a-decade leadership transition.

The committee promoted Xu Qiliang and Fan Changlong to the commission that controls China’s armed forces, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday. It also affirmed former Politburo member Bo Xilai’s expulsion from the party.

Xu and Fan “are career professional soldiers,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham in England. “Fan is an infantry man who had held important combat commands and a professional soldier. Xu is a career Air Force officer and commander of the Air Force.”

China’s Communist Party, not the government, oversees the People’s Liberation Army. Controlling the military -- whose 670 billion yuan ($107.3 billion) budget this year is exceeded only by that of the U.S. -- is seen as central to the party’s ability to maintain power. Chairman Mao Zedong, the first leader of the People’s Republic, said “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Vice President Xi Jinping is also a vice chairman of the military commission. President Hu Jintao, who is set to hand over his leadership of the party to Xi at a party congress that begins Nov. 8, is the commission’s chairman.

‘Great Respect’

Fan is commander of the PLA’s Jinan Military Area Command, according to the government’s website Xu is commander of the PLA’s air force. Fan is 65 and Xu is 62, according to biographical details provided by Xinhua.

Huang Jing, a professor of political science at National University of Singapore, said Xu Qiliang “is professional and enjoys great respect from PLA officers.”

Xu’s advancement may be a sign that the PLA is moving to more “joint” operations among the army, navy and air force because most past vice chairmen have been army officers, said Taylor Fravel, a political science professor specializing in China at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Fan was named a vice chairman after not having served on the commission. He is “a real professional, with extensive command experience,” Fravel said. Xu was a member of the commission prior to yesterday’s announcement.

‘Reasonable’ Promotion

“Their promotion seems reasonable to me and do not indicate something particularly untoward,” Tsang said.

The two generals may replace Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, both members of the ruling Politburo. Guo and Xu Caihou weren’t mentioned in the report announcing the appointments, and they are still listed on the military’s website as vice chairmen of the commission.

The party’s central committee also endorsed a decision made in September by the Politburo to expel Bo, the former Chongqing Communist Party chief, from the party, as well as former railway minister Liu Zhijun. Bo’s wife was convicted in August of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. Liu was toppled in a corruption probe.

“Fighting corruption and promoting cleanness and honesty in a resolute manner is a consistent political stand held by the Communist Party of China and also a key political issue that is of major concern to the people,” the central committee said in a communique released yesterday after its meeting that ran from Nov. 1 to Nov. 4.

— With assistance by Michael Forsythe

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