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Chinese brass with Hu's characteristics

August 13, 2010

By Joseph Y Lin
Asia Times (Honk Kong)
August 12, 2010

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On the eve of the 83rd founding anniversary of
the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA),
Chinese President and Central Military Commission
(CMC) chairman Hu Jintao promoted 11 leaders to
the rank of full general (shangjiang) on July 19.

This round of promotions represents the largest
promotion "class" since Hu took over as CMC
chairman in 2004. He appears to have drawn those
promoted from a wide range of backgrounds and
experiences, including nine from the PLA, one
from the PLA Navy (PLAN), one from the PLA Air
Force (PLAAF), three from the CMC's General
Departments, six from the Military Regions (MRs)
and three from the CMC's military institutes [1].

This round of promotions stands out in its size
and diversity. However, limiting analysis to
these 11 generals would be missing the big
picture as one can gain additional insights by
examining all of the generals promoted since the
restoration of military rank (junxian) in 1988.
Since then the CMC, China's highest military
commanding body, has promoted 129 generals: 17
under Deng Xiaoping (1981-1989), 79 under Jiang
Zemin (1989-2004) and 33 to date under Hu (2004-present).

On an analysis of the 129 generals, a number of
patterns for Hu's promotions emerge. While he has
adhered to some of his predecessors' promotion
practices, Hu also appears increasingly confident
in selecting his own military leaders.

The CMC, China's highest military body

As the highest military policy and commanding
body in China, the CMC supervises and commands
five service branches of China's armed forces:
the PLA, PLAN, PLAAF, the secretive Second
Artillery Corps (SAC) and the internally oriented
People's Armed Police (PAP) (which falls under
the joint leadership of the CMC and the State
Council, albeit not formally part of the PLA).

The CMC appears well balanced and well
represented in that it is headed by Hu aided by
two vice chairmen with long and established
records of military service. Defense minister,
heads of the CMC's four General Departments, and
the commanders of the PLAN, PLA Air Force and the
SAC make up the rest of the CMC.

Aside from its supervision over the PLA ground
forces (via MRs), PLAN and PLAAF, the CMC shares
oversight responsibility over the PAP with the
State Council and has direct commanding and
oversight responsibility over the SAC and three
military institutes: National Defense University
(NDU), Academy of Military Sciences (AMS) and
National University of Defense Technology (NUDT).

Ground forces still provide bulk of Hu's generals

The Chinese military has traditionally been
influenced by its ground forces because of
China's historical status as a land power.
Additionally, the PLA can trace its roots to the
1920s, predating the founding of the People's
Republic of China and all other service branches.
Therefore, ground forces generals not
surprisingly represent a lion's share - 71% of the total.

Yet Hu has promoted substantially more non-ground
forces (PLAN, PLAAF, SAC and PAP) generals than
his predecessors in percentage terms. Thirty nine
percent of Hu's generals are non-ground forces,
compared to 25% and 24% for Jiang's and Deng's, respectively.

The CMC directly supervises and commands the SAC,
which controls China's nuclear arsenal and
conventional missiles. Its small manpower
(estimated at 100,000 or 3% of Chinese military
manpower) notwithstanding, the SAC has produced a
disproportional large number of generals. Of the
129 military leaders promoted to generals, seven
(or 5% of the total) were SAC generals - which
may be an indication of the SAC's special status
in China's armed forces. Hu has promoted three
SAC generals to date, representing approximately
9% of his total, compared to Deng's 6% and
Jiang's 4%. Hu's relative overweight in his SAC
generals is a reflection of the strategic emphasis he places on the SAC.

While other service branches are externally
oriented, the internally oriented PAP is charged
with "the fundamental task of safeguarding
national security, maintaining social stability
and ensuring that the people live in peace and
contentment" [2]. Jiang successfully incorporated
the PAP into the CMC's command structure by
promoting the first PAP general in 1998.
Altogether he promoted five PAP generals,
representing 6% of his total. Continuing the
emphasis on PAP generals, Hu has promoted two PAP
generals, representing 9% of his total. Since
domestic stability remains among Hu's and the
CCP's highest governing priorities, one can
expect Hu to continue promoting PAP generals.

Recent research points to Shandong (with a
population of 94 million, approximately 7% of
China's total population) as having produced a
disproportional share of generals [3][4]. Of Hu's
33 generals promoted to date, six (or
approximately 18%) were born in Shandong, while
20 (or approximately 25%) of Jiang's generals
came from the same province. The top four
provinces for Jiang's generals are Shandong,
Jiangsu, Liaoning, and Hebei, whereas the top
four for Hu's have been Shandong, Hebei, Henan
and Liaoning. Shandong remains the most
over-represented province during Deng's, Jiang's and Hu's CMC chairmanships.

This round of promotions also expanded the
geographic representation for Hu's generals.
Prior to this round of promotions, 10 provinces
(including Shanghai) were represented in Hu's
generals. This round of promotions expanded the
geographic representation by 4 provinces
(Guangdong, Shaanxi, Heilongjiang and Jilin).

Hu favors MR experience

Since the beginning of Hu's CMC chairmanship, the
percentage of generals with MR experience has
surged to 82% compared to 53% during Deng's and
Jiang's CMC chairmanships. The apparent emphasis
on MR experience may be a reflection of Hu's own
inclination toward favoring non-headquarters
(local, or difang) training and experience for
his generals since Hu himself appears to have
been professionally enriched by difang posts
early in his own career in some of the poorest
inland regions in China such as Gansu, Guizhou and Tibet.

It is also worth noting that Hu's generals with
MR and headquarters background in percentage
terms have both increased compared to Deng's and
Jiang's, suggesting that Hu views favorably
generals with well rounded experience.

The CMC directly supervises and commands three
military institutes: NDU, NUDT and AMS. It has
traditionally tapped the leaders (presidents,
political commissars and their deputies) of these
schools for promotion candidates for generalship.
Of Deng's generals, two (or approximately 12%)
were promoted from the three schools. Of Jiang's
generals, 10 (or approximately 13%) were promoted
from these schools [5]. Altogether nine (or
approximately 27%) of Hu's generals have been promoted from the schools.

Hu's emphasis on promoting from these military
institutes will have a long-lasting impact for
China's military as its leadership seeks to
modernize itself in areas of software
(information and ideas) and hardware (equipment and technology).

As CMC chairman, Deng promoted 17 generals in a
single "class" in 1988. Jiang on average promoted
generals once every two years between 1989 and
2004, with the average "class size" at about 10
generals [6]. Hu on average has promoted generals
at least once every year (or approximately every
10 months) between 2004 and 2010 with the average
class size at more than 4 generals. Where Jiang
appears to have institutionalized the promotion
process, Hu appears to have regularized the process.

By 2012 when his current term expires, Hu will
have served as CMC chairman for 8 years. Assuming
he promotes generals at Jiang's pace, Hu can
still promote another 10 generals by 2012. If he
continues to promote generals at roughly the same
pace as he has since 2004, he could also
reasonably promote another 10 generals by 2012.
In such case, assuming one slot goes to each of
the SAC and PAP, one might, given China's naval
ambitions, reasonably forecast the promotions of
2 admirals and 1 air force general, resulting in
a final relative weighting at 69% army, 14% navy
and 17% air force for Hu's generals - not
unreasonable, considering that even Deng's generals were 13% navy [7].

While Hu is expected to continue his gradualist
and balanced approach in promoting his generals
in the future by taking into consideration each
constituent's interests and representation as in
the past, he has already effected many changes.

He has promoted more leaders from non-ground
forces branches and the CMC's military institutes
than his predecessors. He favors generals with
difang experience. He has continued to promote
younger leaders and regularized the promotion process and cycle.

True to form, he has accomplished all this
without much fanfare. Whether or not Hu steps
down as CMC chairman in 2012, he has already left
an impactful legacy for China's military leadership.

1. "11 Including Zhang Qinsheng Promoted to the
Rank of Full General", China Review News, July 19, 2010.

2. Information Office of the State Council of the
People's Republic of China, China's National
Defense 2008, January 2009, Section VIII: 10.

3. Joseph Y Lin, "The Changing Face of Chinese
Military Generals: Evolving Promotion Practices
Between 1981 and 2009", The Korean Journal of
Defense Analysis, Vol. 22, No. 1, March 2010: 79-80.

4. Li Cheng, China's Mid-term Jockeying: Gearing
up for 2012 - Part 3, Military Leaders", China
Leadership Monitor, No. 33, June 29, 2010: 5-7.

5. Lin, "The Changing Face of Chinese Military Generals": 82-83.

6. Ibid: 88-89.

7. Joseph Y Lin, Reorientation of China's Armed
Forces: Implications for the Future Promotions of
PLA Generals, China Brief, Vol. 10, No. 13, June 24, 2010. See Table 2.

* Joseph Y Lin studies at the Graduate Institute
of International Affairs and Strategic Studies of
Tamkang University in Taiwan. Having received his
MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business,
Lin has held executive positions in multinational
corporations and investment companies in the US,
China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. His recent articles
were published by China Brief and The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis.
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