Escalating Tension Between Xi Jinping And A Faction Within The Military
The recent conclave involving Gen. He Weidong, the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC), and the newly appointed Chinese academicians has ignited speculations among China analysts, suggesting an escalating schism between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and a faction within the military. This gathering, reported by Chinese state media on January 10, witnessed Gen. He Weidong extending congratulations to recently elevated academicians from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering on behalf of Xi. Notably, Adm. Miao Hua, a CMC member and director of the Political Work Department, was also present at this high-profile meeting.
2. Chen Pokong, a China political analyst based in the U.S., has discerned deeper implications from this event, contending that it unveils internal divisions within the CMC. In an interview, Chen pointed out the conspicuous absence of Vice Chairman Zhang Youxia during the third plenary session of the 20th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) held from January 8 to 10. Additionally, he underscored the unexpected presence of Gen. He, a lower-ranking official, alongside Adm. Miao, a departure from the customary protocol that raised eyebrows.
3. Chen posited that Xi intentionally excluded Gen. Zhang from the meeting and dispatched Gen. He instead, suggesting a strategic move. He drew parallels with previous instances where Xi promoted individuals, such as Cai Qi and Li Qiang, bypassing the established party hierarchy. This maneuver, according to Chen, could be indicative of a deliberate attempt by Xi to assert control and sideline certain factions within the military leadership.
4. Moreover, Chen speculated on the events at the third plenary session of the CCDI, suggesting that Xi might have criticized Gen. Zhang and his associates, as well as the missing former Defense Minister Li Shangfu. Despite Xi’s dissatisfaction, they were not immediately removed from their positions. Chen surmised that this strategic delay might have been due to specific circumstances or Xi’s unwillingness to take direct action against them at that time.
5. Chen predicted diminished appearances from the Zhang faction, interpreting it as a sign of their marginalization and exclusion by Xi. He identified individuals valued by Xi, including Gen. He Weidong, Adm. Miao Hua, and recently promoted Defense Minister Dong Jun, as indicators of a divided and dysfunctional CMC. This internal strife, as perceived by Chen, could have far-reaching implications for the stability and effectiveness of the Chinese military apparatus.
6. The historical context of factionalism within the CMC adds complexity to the current dynamics. Chen delineated two primary factions: one aligned with Xi, Gen. He, and Adm. Miao, and another comprising Gen. Zhang Youxia, Gen. Liu Zhenli, Gen. Zhang Shengmin, and the now-missing former Defense Minister Gen. Li. The disappearance of Gen. Li was highlighted as a critical factor, indicative of Gen. Zhang Youxia losing a key ally and source of support.
7. In late August 2023, Gen. Li vanished from public view, and on October 24, he was ousted from his roles as state councilor, minister of national defense, and member of the CMC. Xi’s subsequent purge of the Chinese military, particularly targeting the top echelon of the People’s Liberation Army’s Rocket Force, involved the removal of nine military generals as deputies to the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp legislature. This included three generals and at least four lieutenant generals, mainly from the Rocket Force and the Equipment Development Department of the CMC.
8. Chen underscored the existence of pro- and anti-American factions, as well as pro- and anti-war factions within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). According to his analysis, Xi Jinping belongs to the far-left anti-American faction, while the missing Li Shangfu, former Foreign Minister Qin Gang, and the dismissed senior members of the Rocket Force align with the pro-American, anti-war faction. In a democratic context, such factionalism in military leadership could be beneficial, providing checks and balances. However, within the totalitarian system of the CCP, Chen warned that this could lead to unforeseen struggles or even a coup.
9. Chen further asserted that the power struggles within the CCP’s top leadership have largely concluded, with the focus shifting to infighting within the Chinese military. He emphasized that this internal conflict is “much more severe” than what external observers might have anticipated, presenting a critical challenge to the cohesion and effectiveness of the military apparatus.
10. On December 29, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) revealed Adm. Dong Jun’s appointment as the new minister of national defense, succeeding Gen. Li. This marked a historic moment, as Adm. Dong became the first Chinese navy admiral to assume the role of defense minister. Chen viewed this as an unprecedented step and a deviation from established military conventions.
11. Chen suggested that Xi’s promotion of Adm. Dong was driven by a perception of him as non-threatening, lacking significant political connections and resources in Beijing. This decision, disregarding internal rules and norms of the CCP, was seen by Chen as another instance of Xi’s authoritarian behavior and cronyism. While Xi might not necessarily trust Adm. Dong, Chen posited that this appointment serves Xi’s interest in maintaining a certain level of control within the CMC. 12. In conclusion, the recent meeting between Gen. He Weidong and the newly promoted Chinese academicians serves as a microcosm of broader power dynamics within the Chinese military and the CCP. Chen Pokong’s analysis provides valuable insights into the intricacies of factionalism, power struggles, and Xi Jinping’s strategic maneuvers within this complex landscape. As these events unfold, the ramifications for China’s military stability and the CCP’s internal dynamics are likely to attract continued scrutiny and analysis.