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PLA promotes a liberal to the front line
To go with the impending renovation of its political leadership, China has promoted a clutch of younger officers to the rank of full general. This gives indications as to the priorities of the outgoing and incoming power-holders and suggests a willingness to allow a liberal voice at the top of the military.
Party army. Despite its name, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is a Party army, and, as set out in a recent blog posting, the leadership has been going out of its way to remind it of the need for unity in the wake of the Bo Xilai affair. The promotions offer further evidence of this and of the focus on trying to ensure social stability.
Of the six men promoted, two were senior officers in the People’s Armed Police (PAP). which comes under the PLA and forms the shock troops for putting down disturbances, notably in Xinjiang and Tibet. The other four were PLA political commissars.
Rising “princeling”. The most interesting appointment to the rank of full general is that of Liu Yazhou, previously a lieutenant-general. A “princeling”, Liu is the son of a senior army official and is married to the daughter of the former president Li Xiannian, who played a key role in helping Deng Xiaoping in the power struggle after Mao Zedong’s death in 1976. He is the political commissar of the National Defence University.
Liu is an unusually outspoken figure in an army where generals usually confine themselves to platitudes. Known also as a writer of novels and of essays on international affairs, he learned English at university and is known to read a wide range of Western publications. He is an executive of the Writers’ Union. His wife, Li Xiaolin, who graduated from UCLA 30 years ago, makes documentary films, including one on an American plot with the Flying Tigers in China during the Second World War.
Loyal but liberal. He published an article this summer in the Party magazine Qiushi stressing the need for the PLA to be loyal to the Party whose leadership, he said, had been essential to the armed forces. But he has argued for political liberalization too. In an internal speech in 2009, Liu approved of a decision by two former PLA generals to refuse to suppress Beijing protesters in 1989. An essay he wrote entitled "Western theory" urged Beijing to launch democratic reforms or to risk a Soviet-style collapse. He has denounced the “blind worship of money” and has called for greater cultural and ideological superiority as well as economic strength, warning that “If a system fails to let its citizens breathe freely and release their creativity to the maximum extent, and fails to put those who best represent the system and its people into leadership positions, it is certain to perish.” He attributes US success to the rule of law, adding that “Democracy is the most urgent thing; without it there can be no sustainable growth.”
At a filmed ceremony shown on television, the new generals were formally appointed by Hu Jintao in his capacity as Chair of the Military Affairs Commission, with Xi jinping, the Vice Chair, standing beside him. (See the ceremony at http://news.ifeng.com/mainland/detail_2012_07/30/16414439_0.shtml)
Hu and Xi (front centre) with the Military Affairs Commission (PAP generals in blue, navy commander in white)
The promoted officers are:
PAP – Wang Jianping, 59, commander of the PAP, and Xu Yaoyuan, 60, PAP political commissar.
PLA – Liu Yazhou, Political commissar of the National Defence University; Du Jincai, 60, Deputy head of the PLA’s General Political Department; Tian Xiusi, 62, Political commissar of the Chengdu Military Command; and Du Hengyan, 61, Political commissar of the Jinan Military Command.