Leadership: Chinese Brass Are Shaken and Stirred

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October 3, 2007: Big shake up in the Chinese military leadership. The head of the air force was just replaced, at least two years before that would have normally happened. He was not alone. The major commands in China are the chief of staff (who runs everything), and those in charge of the army, navy and air force, as well as the seven regional commands. Over half these commanders have been replaced recently, and more are expected to be eased out. Part of this is to get younger, less corrupt and more imaginative, men into those positions. But there's also a question of loyalty.

In China, the troops swear allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party, not China. Maintaining the loyalty of the military is seen as the most important task of the party bureaucrats. That, however, presents some problems. First, there is the corruption. It has gotten worse in the military over the last two decades. Officers getting rich this way, don't feel terribly loyal when ordered to give up a lot of their income. Compounding this problem is the one with modernization of the military. Most of the armed forces are using weapons and equipment that were, in many cases, the latest and greatest half a century ago. Buying new equipment isn't enough, you need officers who know how to use the new gear effectively. That's been a problem. Bright young Chinese have not been flocking to military careers for over a decade. There's more money to be made as a civilian. So the party leaders have to search through the officer corps looking for people who are capable, not too corrupt and, above all, loyal to the Communist Party. This last requirement has been an insurmountable barrier for many otherwise qualified officers. This means that Chinese military commanders will always be rather less than they could be. To Chinese, this problem seems to explain the traditional ineffectiveness of the military after long periods of peace. The current political leadership seems determined to overcome this problem, no matter how many dismissed generals it takes.

 


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