In a bid to shore up his control over the Chinese military, President Xi Jinping sacked a pair of high-ranking People’s Liberation Army generals who were part of an organization that once upon a time was viewed as unassailable.
The purges, which occurred in the weeks before the 19th People’s Congress — scheduled to begin in days and which Xi hopes to use as a means of solidifying his grip on power for the next five-year presidential term — is viewed as the president’s attempt to remake China’s military into a modernized, highly capable force worthy of his country’s status as a rising global power.
The purged: Gen. Fang Fenghui, the chief of the army’s Joint Staff Department; and Gen. Zhang Yang, the director of the military’s political department. Both have vanished from sight; both were replaced without any fanfare.
“The removal of those top leaders, senior elderly generals and admirals, is part of a broader drive to promote and advance younger, more professionally minded officers,” said Timothy R. Heath, an expert on the Chinese military at the RAND Corporation. “There are huge numbers of top brass in the P.L.A.; it’s top-heavy, and huge numbers of these guys are going to lose their jobs.”
Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has used his position as president to purge government and military officials viewed as incompetent, corrupt, or disloyal.
Xi “has been able to take political control of the military to an extent that exceeds what Mao and Deng have done,” said Tai Ming Cheung, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who studies China’s defense forces. “He has already demonstrated ahead of the congress his ability to elevate key commanders that are close to him.”
Analyst comment: Xi has purged other high-ranking military officers in his ongoing bid to clean out the corruption and build a first-rate modern military. In addition to purges, he has ordered personnel cuts and is seeking to attract more recruits who are far more technologically advanced in terms of education and skills, which he will need to staff a modern technologically superior force.
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