Xi puts trusted general as one of two deputies at powerful Central Military Commission

A Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldier stands guard in front of the Great Hall of the People on Oct 25, 2017. EPA
President Xi Jinping was on Wednesday (Oct 25) elected a second term as chairman of the party's Central Military Commission (CMC). PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING - President Xi Jinping was on Wednesday (Oct 25) elected a second term as chairman of the party's powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) while a close ally was promoted to become one of its two vice-chairmen.

There are two vice-chairman positions on the seven-member CMC, which oversees the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

General Zhang Youxia, one of a few senior military officers with combat experience, was named the second vice-chairman, while incumbent vice-chairman Xu Qiliang, 67, was named the first vice-chairman.

Gen Zhang, 67, replaces 70-year-old General Fan Changlong, who was expected to retire during the 19th Party Congress, which concluded on Tuesday (Oct 24).

According to China watcher Li Cheng, Mr Xi and Gen Zhang have strong family ties: Their fathers, Xu Zhongxun and Zhang Zongxun, were both natives of Shaanxi and were "bloody fighting comrades" during the Communist Revolution.

"Xi Jinping and Zhang Youxia inherited their fathers' friendship. They both were born in Beijing and grew up around the officers' 'big yards', he wrote on the website of Brookings Institution.

Gen Zhang's father, General Zhang Zongxun, was the PLA's head of logistics in the 1970s and commanded the PLA's North-east Army Corps in 1947 when Xi's father, Xi Zhongxun, was political commissar during that period.

Born in Beijing, Gen Zhang joined the army in 1968, rising through the ranks and joining the military commission in late 2012.

He fought against Vietnam in a brief border war in 1979 that China launched in punishment for Vietnam invading Cambodia the previous year and ousting the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge, reported Reuters.

Gen Zhang was 26 when he was sent to the front lines to fight the Vietnamese, where he performed well and was quickly promoted, according to Chinese state media. He also fought in another border clash with Vietnam in 1984.

General Li Zuocheng, 64, a veteran of the 1979 war with Vietnam, also joined the CMC.

In June this year (2017), Gen Zhang, a former director of the commission's equipment development department, presided over the launch ceremony of the PLA's newest home-built 10,000-tonne destroyer.

The launch of the ship marks an important step towards China's dream of having a strong and modern naval force, he was quoted as saying at the ceremony.

State media has lavished praise on him in recent months.

"During the battle, whether attacking or defending, Zhang Youxia performed excellently," the official China Youth Daily wrote in August in a piece entitled, "These Chinese generals have killed the enemy on the battlefield".

There has been speculation the Chinese Communist Party has been studying a proposal to increase the number of vice-chairmen on the military commission from two to four, but the final line-up unveiled on Wednesday showed that the party has decided to keep the number of vice-chairmen at two.

In the past five years under President Xi, the Chinese military has undergone major restructuring that made it not only more efficient and battle-ready, but also more closely aligned to the leader himself.

Analysts have said that the main reason why Mr Xi has been able to push through these wide-ranging reforms is his anti-corruption drive to weed out high-placed PLA leaders who had set up their own power bases within the ranks.

Since 2012, more than 40 generals have been arrested for offences like bribery, including two CMC vice-chairmen - Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong.

Some 300,000 troops have been laid off and advanced new equipment such as stealth fighters has been developed.

China has taken an increasingly assertive line in the disputed waters of South China Sea, as well as over Taiwan, which Beijing regards as renegade province.

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