The General Departments of the PLA: An Update


Headquarters of the General Staff

As the key operational department for the day-to-day functions of the PLA, the headquarters of the general staff is the most important general department under the Central Military Commission. Theoretically, it is the headquarters for ground forces and other armed services such as the air force, the navy, and the strategic rocket force (known as the Second Artillery Force). But in practice, this organ has been mainly staffed by officers of ground force experiences. This situation changed in 2004.

 

In July 2004, Lieutenant General Xu Qiliang and Vice Admiral Wu Shengli were promoted to the Headquarters of the General Staff as deputy chiefs of staff.[1] Xu is the first air force officer since the early 1970s to have been appointed to this post;[2] and Wu is the third navy officer in the history of the PRC to have been promoted to the post.[3] An alternate member of the 14th and 15th central committees and the youngest of the military full members of the 16th Central Committee,[4] Xu must have been groomed for high offices in the PLA. Because he has spent his whole career in the air force, there had been speculation that he would succeed General Qiao Qingchen[5] as commander of the PLA Air Force.

 

Wu was probably a dark horse for the role. He is five years older than Xu, and his political and military credentials are much less impressive than those of Xu. He was deputy commander of the East China Sea Fleet until January 2002 when he was promoted to be commander of the South China Sea Fleet and deputy commander of the Guangzhou Military Region, while Xu had been chief of staff of the PLA Air Force for five years (1995-2000) and had been commander of the Shenyang Military Region Air Force and deputy commander of the Shenyang Military Region for two years (since 2000). He was awarded the rank of rear admiral in 1994 (three years later than Xu) and was promoted to the rank of vice admiral in 2003 (seven years later than Xu).[6] In retrospect, Ding Yiping, a rising political star in the years 2000-2003, might have been groomed for the post of deputy chief of staff from the navy. Ding is one year younger than Xu Qiliang. He was born in February 1951 and became commander of the North China Sea Fleet in 2000 at the age of 49 (more than one year earlier than when Wu became commander of the South China Sea Fleet). He is an alternate member of the 16th Central Committee and was promoted to the rank of vice admiral in 2002 (a year earlier than Wu’s promotion to the same rank). As the youngest deputy commander of the Jinan Military Region since 2001, Ding seemed to have a bright future in 2003. Unfortunately, he was demoted in June 2003[7] as a result of a submarine accident in April-May 2003 in which the 70 crew members aboard a Ming class submarine were all killed.[8]

 

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In contrast to Xu’s air service and Wu’s navy service, General Wu Quanxu and General Qian Shugen both have served in the ground forces. With only one month difference in their ages,[9] they joined the PLA in the same year (1954) and received the same military education. Wu graduated from the Shenyang Artillery School in 1956, and Qian graduated from the Chongqing Artillery School in 1956. They both served in the artillery regiment in the beginning of their military career and were promoted to deputy chief of staff in the same month (July 1995).[10] After having reached their retirement age of 65, Wu and Qian both retired. Xiong Guangkai, a third member of the cohort, still appeared as deputy chief of staff as recently as 31 July 31 2004,[11] even though he is one month older than Qian and two months older than Wu. It remains to be seen who is going to replace him.

 

General Political Department

The General Political Department, another key organ responsible for ideological indoctrination and political organization, also witnessed personnel changes in recent months. General Yuan Shoufang, an alternate member of the 16th Central Committee and deputy director of the General Political Department since November 1996, has retired.  Lieutenant General Sun Zhongtong has been promoted from assistant director to deputy director.[12] Sun was born in October 1944 and had worked in the Shenyang Military Region previously. He became assistant director and director of the PLA Daily in July 2001 and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in 2002. He is also an alternate member of the 16th Central Committee.[13] General Zhang Shutian, deputy director of the department since 1998 and a member of the 16th Central Disciplinary Commission (CDC), is also likely to retire any time soon. He was born in 1939 and will reach the retirement age of 65 in October 2004. It has been speculated that Lieutenant General Zhou Yuqi, director of the Political Department of the Guangzhou Military Region, is a candidate for Zhang’s post because Zhou is a full member of the 16th Central Committee.[14]

 

Most noticeably, the General Political Department has added two new assistant directors: Lieutenant General Liu Zhenqi and Major General Jiang Jichi. Jiang was born in January 1944 and had been president of the Military Court of the PLA. He became director of the Work Department under the General Political Department in 2001 and was promoted as assistant director from within. Liu, on the other hand, was transferred from the Lanzhou Military Region where he had been deputy political commissar of the region and political commissar of the Lanzhou Military Region Air Force. It is interesting to note that Liu is said to have continued to wear his uniform as an air force officer instead of changing it to the uniform of the ground force.[15] This is interesting because Tang Tianbiao, executive deputy director of the General Political Department, was initially awarded the rank of rear admiral in 1990 due to his service in the PLA Navy. After he was appointed assistant director of the General Political Department in May 1993, however, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in 1994 instead of vice admiral.[16]

 

General Logistics Department

The General Logistics Department is responsible for production, supply, transportation, housing, pay, and medical services. The leadership of the department has been quite stable but has seen a few significant changes lately. Lieutenant General Zhou Youliang, deputy director of the department since December 1993, was transferred to the National People’s Congress (NPC) in November 2003. He is a member of the Committee on Environment and Resource Protection of the 10th NPC.[17] Lieutenant General Tan Yuexin, former director of the General Office of the Central Military Commission (CMC), was transferred to the General Logistics Department as deputy director. Tan’s position in the General Office of the CMC is now occupied by Jia Ting’an, Jiang Zemin’s personal secretary. Born in 1950, Jia became Jiang’s personal secretary in 1982 after his graduation from college. He went to Shanghai with Jiang in 1985 and to Beijing with Jiang in 1989. He became a secretary in the Central Military Commission after Jiang had become CMC chairman in November 1989 and was promoted as deputy director of the General Office of the CMC in 1994.[18] Without any military experience, Jia is said to have been awarded the rank of major general.

            Lieutenant General Liu Yuan, son of Liu Shaoqi (former president of the PRC), was transferred to the department as deputy political commissar from the armed police force. Liu was vice governor of Henan in the 1980s and worked in the Headquarters of the Armed Police Force as deputy political commissar. It is not clear why he was transferred to the General Logistics Department.

 

General Armament Department

 

            The General Armament Department, a new general department established in April 1998 responsible for military equipment in the PLA, is the newest general department of the four.  Yet this most junior department has the best representation in the central committee of the CCP. The other departments usually have two full members (except for the Headquarters of the General Staff that has three full members) and one to three alternate members of the CCP’s central committee. The General Armament Department has four full members and one alternate member. Li Jinai (director), Chi Wanchun (political commissar), Li Andong (deputy director), and Li Dongheng (deputy political commissar) are all full members of the 16th Central Committee and Zhu Fazhong (deputy director) is an alternate member.

            It is not clear why Lieutenant General Li Andong was elected a full member of the 16th Central Committee in addition to the director and political commissar of the General Armament Department. But it is very likely that Lieutenant General Li Dongheng had been chosen as a full member of the 16th Central Committee because he would succeed Xu Yongqing, political commissar of the armed police force. In November 2002 when the 16th National Congress of the CCP was held, Li was director of the Political Department of the People’s Armed Police Force and Xu was close to his retirement age of 65.[19] However, Xu was replaced by Sui Mingtai, former political commissar of the Second Artillery Force and a full member of the 16th Central Committee. Li was transferred to the General Armament Department to replace retiring Lieutenant General Zhu Zengquan. The General Armament Department may be half a grade lower than the other general departments, and thus its deputy directors will have to retire at the age of 63 instead of 65. For this reason, Hu Shixiang, deputy director since August 1998, has recently been replaced by Zhang Jianqi, former director of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.[20] We should also see the retirement of Lieutenant General Li Yuanzheng (deputy director since August 1998) anytime in the near future.

 

 

The personnel changes in the four general departments in general and the promotions of Xu Qiliang and Wu Shengli to the Headquarters of the General Staff in particular, have produced a series of promotions along the chain of command at lower levels, and these changes will also likely generate structural changes in the corresponding military organs at lower levels in the future.

The author would like to thank the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore for financial support, though he is solely responsible for the views expressed in the article

 

Zhiyue Bo

The author is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of International Studies at St. John Fisher College, Rochester, New York, the United States of America. He is currently a visiting research fellow at the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore, Singapore.

 

NOTES

 



[1]  http://news.yam.com/cna/china/news/200407/200407170049.html.

[2] Wu Faxian, the commander of the PLA Air Force between 1965 and 1973, was the first air force officer in the history of the People’s Republic of China to have served in such a capacity in this key military organ. Wu was appointed deputy chief of staff in 1967 (concurrently with his position of the air force commander) and was removed from the post in 1973.

[3] Li Zuopeng, the first political commissar of the PLA Navy in 1967, became deputy chief of staff in 1968 and was purged in August 1973. General Li Jing, deputy commander of the PLA Navy in the 1980s, was appointed deputy chief of staff in 1992 but was probably replaced in 1995.

[4] He was born in March 1950.

[5] Qiao was born in October 1939 and will be 65 years old in October 2004. It is likely that Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian, deputy commander of the PLA Air Force and a full member of the 16th Central Committee, would succeed him.

[6] http://www.zaobao.com/special/newspapers/2004/07/others170704c.html. For Xu’s bio, see Shen Xueming and Zheng Jianying (eds.), Zhonggong Diyijie zhi Dishiwujie Zhongyangweiyuan (The Central Committee Members of the Chinese Communist Party from the First through the Fifteenth Central Committee) (Beijing: Zhongyangwenxian chubanshe, 2001), p. 251.

[7] People’s Daily online, June 14, 2003,  http://www.people.com.cn/GB/paper447/9416/871999.html.

[8] For a detailed analysis of the accident, see James Mulvenon, ‘The Crucible of Tragedy: SARS, the Ming 361 Accident, and Chinese Party-Army Relations,’ Chinese Leadership Monitor, Issue 8 (Fall 2003),  http://www.chinaleadershipmonitor.org/20034/jm.pdf.

[9] Qian was born in March 1939 and Wu was born in April 1939.

[10] For their bios, see Shen Xueming and Zheng Jianying, pp. 371 and 629-630.

[11] PLA Daily, August 1, 2004, http://www.pladaily.com.cn/gb/pladaily/2004/08/01/20040801001070_jryw.html.

[12] http://www.todaychinese.com/news/15226.html.

[13]http://forum.chinesenewsnet.com/showthread.php?s=f3161f92675c9214cf4969f0e5379650&threadid=5729&perpage=15&pagenumber=1#7497.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] See Shen Xueming and Zheng Jianying, p. 662.

[17] http://www.jcrb.com/zyw/n47/ca34275.htm.

[18] http://renminbao.com/rmb/articles/2004/2/14/29947.html.

[19] http://www.cna.tv/stories/china/view/13715/1/gb/www.cna.tv/eastasianews.

[20] http://www6.chinesenewsnet.com/MainNews/SinoNews/Mainland/2004_8_11_18_40_26_825.html.

 




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