By Zhengxu Wang.

The appointment of two new vice chairmen to the Central Military Committee at the just-closed Plenum shows Hu Jintao is now in fuller control of the succession arrangements for the forthcoming Party Congress.

The Central Plenum, the last of the seven between two Congresses, closed over the weekend. By the Communiqué it released, it appears to have been another normal plenum before a Party Congress: it involved the review and approval of the political report and proposed revisions on the Party Constitution that will be discussed at the forthcoming Party Congress, the reports on Bo Xilai and Liu Zhijun’s investigation and the work report of the Politburo since the last plenum.

As expected, Bo Xilai had his Party membership revoked, and the Plenum decided, as suggested by an earlier Politburo session, that the Congress will open on 8 November.

What is new at this Plenum is that two military officers were promoted to vice chairman positions in the Party’s Central Military Committee (CMC). The Communiqué used the term  “zengbu”, meaning they were “added to” the CMC vice chairmanships. Whether there was a vote of confirmation for these two appointments it is not clear.

Fan Changlong and Xu Qiliang

But it is clear that this represents another major step for Hu Jintao’s plan to ensure a smooth succession at the Congress. Just a few weeks ago, Hu succeeded in re-appointing all the major military positions below the CMC: the directors of all four general departments of the PLA, plus the commanders of several military regions, and the commander of the strategic missile force (the No 2 Artillery).

With these new vice chairmen of the CMC appointed, and two of the incumbent vice chairmen due for retirement at the Party Congress, the military leadership is now firmly under Hu Jintao’s control. At the Party Congress, then, there will be no military support of any motions or proposals that go against Hu Jintao’s will.

To this commentator, who claims no military expertise, the selection of the two new CMC vice chairmen seems to reflect their professional prowess rather than factional advantage. Of course, the Bo Xilai case derailed the career prospects of a few previous hopefuls.

In any case, the institutional set-up of the Party-Military relationship means that, within the Party, no one actually has a formal role in influencing the personnel of the military leadership unless he has a seat in the CMC. At the moment, only Hu Jintao and Xi Jiping hold such power.

Hu is likely to consult Xi’s opinions on such matters, but being the successor, Xi is likely to defer to Hu anyway. That means that any personnel reshuffling in the military would reflect Hu Jintao’s preference, and the new appointees will register their loyalty to Hu.

Hu’s Party rivals who attempt to influence the personnel outcomes of the Party Congress, specifically the line-up of Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee, are more or less deprived of any access to this process.

Therefore, with the military fully under Hu Jintao’s control, his Party rivals will have a much weaker bargaining position when the new Politburo and its Standing Committee line-ups are fought out.

We therefore can expect the Congress will deliver a Politburo Standing Committee composition that also favours Hu Jintao’s camp.

Zhengxu Wang is Deputy Director of China Policy Institute.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.


  1. I think this posting is quite right. I would add two points, however. With the appointment of the two vice chairmen, it now seems clear that outgoing General Armaments Department Director Chang Wanquan will be the new defense minister, a position that will not be formally announced until next March when the National People’s Congress announces the state and government leadership changes. He was one of only three members of the Central Military Commission eligible to stay on. That relates to the second point: the almost unique promotion of a non-ground forces officer as CMC vice chairman. With Ma (of the PLAAF) gaining the CMC vice chair position, it seems unlikely that another non-ground force officer (PLAN Adm. Wu Shengli, the third eligible by age to remain) will get the defense ministry. Most likely, Wu will remain as Navy commander. (The only post-Mao precedent for a non-ground forces CMC vice chairman is Amd. Liu Huaqing, who was promoted under very unique circumstances after Tiananmen and cannot be considered as a “precedent” for greater inter-service opportunity to attain the PLA’s top positions.)

    This all leaves unanswered two key questions about the inner dynamics of these decisions: will Hu remain as CMC chairman for several years? and what role (if any) did Xi play in the decisions on PLA leadership change? One would hope that, if Hu is genuinely trying to engineer a smooth transition, that he would have consulted closely with Xi on his preferences for top PLA promotions, but we outsiders really have no insight into the Hu-Xi dynamics on military affairs. I think also it’s still a 50-50 toss-up whether Hu will remain or not. To do so will raise all the complaints Jiang Zemin faced about creating “two centers” and having someone not even on the politburo commanding the military. At the same time, it might ease Xi into power, allowing him to consolidate authority in party and government before having to assume the role as commander in chief. On balance, it seems to me a smooth transition requires Hu to step down from all positions at once. But only time will tell (and not much time at that). Chris Clarke

  2. Dear Chris, these are very important analyses of the CMC, and I think your points are sufficient to be posted as a blog by themselves. I myself do not watch the inner-politics of the military so closely, so your insights are highly enlightening.

  3. Off topic, but blogosphere dwellers and forum netizens are calling this Congress an “American parents meeting” presumably due to the number of official’s children who have changed their nationality to US nationality. What would be the academic opinion on this kind of matter?

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