Promoting “young guards”: The recent high turnover in the PLA leadership (Part III: Personal and political)

The most noticeable trend under the leadership of Xi Jinping since the 2012 National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been the continuing consolidation of power. In particular, the military has been a key forum in which Xi has strengthened both his personal power and his new administration’s authority. Xi has adopted several approaches and political tactics to achieve this, including purging the two highest-ranking generals under the previous administration for corruption and other charges; arresting 52 senior military officers on various charges of wrongdoing; reshuffling generals between regions, departments, and services; attempting to systematically reform the PLA’s structure and operations; and, last but not least, rapidly promoting “young guards” (少壮派) in the Chinese military.

These bold moves will have profound implications—not only for Xi’s political standing in the lead-up to the next leadership turnover in 2017, but also for the development of civilian-military relations in the country and for the trajectory of China’s military modernization. The third installment in this series focuses on personnel changes that have occurred during the early phase of military reform.

Who are the rising stars in the PLA following the recent reorganization and reshuffling? What are the distinguishing characteristics of the “young guards”? What are possible explanations for and implications of some of the highest-level personnel changes, such as the retirement of the heavyweight military figure General Liu Yuan and the marginalization of Xi’s confidant General Cai Yingting? How does Xi successfully perform the delicate balancing act in personnel appointments by aggressively promoting his own long-time protégés and new loyalists while avoiding making too many enemies?

This is part three of a series that will appear in the upcoming issue of the China Leadership Monitor. Download the article in full below. The first paper in the series can be found here: Promoting “young guards”: The recent high turnover in the PLA leadership (Part 1: Purges and reshuffles), and the second paper here: Promoting “young guards”: The recent high turnover in the PLA leadership (Part II: Expansion and escalation).