Between August and September, Chinese leader Xi Jinping replaced the commanders of China’s army and air force, as well as the chiefs of the Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department and Political Work Department. Back in January, he appointed a new navy commander.
Chinese military 101: The Joint Staff Department oversees the military intelligence system, while the Political Work Department reviews the political backgrounds of top military officers to determine promotions.
Why it matters: As per Chinese Communist Party (CCP) customs, whoever controls the military sets the agenda. Xi might have named himself commander-in-chief in 2015, but key positions in the military are still occupied by loyalists of former Party leader Jiang Zemin. Now Xi has finally replaced those men with those he trusts.
A factional struggle over the Party: Xi needs full control over the Party to buy enough time to reform the CCP. The Party was on the brink of collapse when Xi became its head in 2012, and it still faces that danger today. If Xi fails to consolidate enough power and push through reform, he will be held accountable for the ensuing social turmoil and chaos if the system were to implode.
Meanwhile, the Jiang faction will continue trying to stifle Xi, and may even attempt a coup or assassination. So it is vital for Xi to reign in the military at all costs, even if it means breaking from existing Party norms and creating new hierarchies and rules.
What’s next: Here are some changes to the military we anticipate Xi will make:
- There is a high probability that the number of CMC chairs and vice chairs will change, or the entire itself CMC could be restructured.
- Most of the generals who received promotions before 2015 will be replaced, except the few that Xi trusts.
- Xi will elevate junior generals to senior ranks in great numbers, even if it means breaking current military promotion norms.
Our in-depth report on Xi Jinping’s military reforms is forthcoming. Please contact us.