Beijing: Amidst looming national leadership transition and escalating tensions with Japan, China on Thursday appointed a new army Chief of Staff along with several other top officers, sidelining generals associated with disgraced Communist Party leader Bo Xilai. General Fang Fenghui, who was one of the few military commanders regarded as close to President Hu Jintao has been appointed as the Chief of the Headquarters of the General Staff of the 2.3 million strong People's Liberation Army, (PLA). He succeeds Gen Chen Bingde.
General Fang was the Commander of the Beijing Military Region. Besides his appointment, a host of officers have been reshuffled and appointed to various key Commands. Liu Yuan, the Political Commissar of the General Logistics Departments, and Gen Zhang Haiyang, the head of the political department of the Second Artillery Division, who were reportedly associated with Bo in the past were sidelined. Bo is currently awaiting trial for various charges against him.
Informed sources said besides the Army Chief, many Commanders who got top posts in Thursday's reshuffle were one way or the other associated with Hu. This raises speculation that the outgoing President not only got his way in getting his men appointed to key slots of the military, he may also continue to be the Chairman of the all powerful Military Commission, which governs the defence structure in China.
In many ways Hu is looking to follow his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, who after relinquishing the Presidency continued to be Chairman of the Military Commission for two years before handing over the baton to Hu. Analysts say that Hu too is expected to do the same.
The new appointments came ahead of the key Congress of the ruling Communist Party which will be held on November 8 to select new leaders. The appointments were made today amid China's rising tensions with Japan over the disputed islands.
Chinese military structure has a distinctively different military command structure unlike other countries. The PLA Command structure is part of the Communist Party and is controlled by a Military Commission headed by Party General Secretary who is also the President of the country.
The top two slots of the Military Commission are currently held by Hu who is also the General Secretary of the Party and Vice President Xi Jinping who is widely expected to succeed him. It now appears that Xi has to continue to be Vice Chairman of the Commission even after becoming President if Hu retains the top slot.
This is the second batch of reshuffle of the military this week. On October 23 the government reshuffled the top echelons by appointing Gen Ma Xiaotian, 63, then Deputy Chief of the PLA as Air Force Chief. He replaced General Xu Qiliang, 50 who was speculated to take a far bigger place in the Military Commission which controls the defence forces. Wang Guanzhong, previously head of the Central Military Commission's general office was appointed Deputy Chief of PLA.