BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping is drawing heavily from the Communist Party’s rank and file to fill key military roles in what appears to be a continuation of his efforts to assert control over the armed forces.
“Xi is trying to tighten his grip on the military by choosing people who don’t have allegiances to past leaders,” a party source said, referring to low-ranking cadres elevated to command posts ahead of a twice-a-decade party congress starting Oct. 18.
Li Shangfu, former deputy commander of the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force, was promoted to lead the Equipment Development Department, the Defense Ministry said Monday. Li’s experience with satellite launches suggests that China’s military intends a greater focus on space.
The equipment department in its previous incarnation ranked among the PLA’s four general headquarters, which were disbanded in an organizational overhaul under Xi. The heads of these bodies served on the Central Military Commission, the top commanding body for the PLA. Li himself may join the commission sometime around the party congress.
The next step for former equipment chief Zhang Youxia has yet to be announced, but he is expected to be appointed CMC vice chair — the highest defense post open to a uniformed officer.
New rocket man
Zhou Yaning was promoted from deputy chief to the commander of the PLA Rocket Force, local media reported Saturday. His armed forces career has been based largely in the Nanjing Military Region compromising Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, where Zhou is believed to have formed ties to Xi, who rose through the party hierarchy there.
The rocket force was created in 2015 as part of Xi’s military reforms, and the president is believed to want someone close to him at its helm. Zhou’s predecessor, Wei Fenghe, is considered another likely candidate to become CMC vice chair.
Seven of eight key recent military appointments come from the Communist Party’s rank and file. Four are still lieutenant generals, only the second-highest rank within the military. Because the appointees quickly climbed the ladder after connecting with Xi, their nominal standing in the party and military has not caught up to their new positions, observers say.
The seven likely will be made members or alternate members of the party’s Central Committee at the upcoming congress. The four lieutenant generals also are expected to become generals by next summer at the latest.