Xi still in the running to be Hu's heir

JOHN GARNAUT HERALD CORRESPONDENT
September 23, 2009

 

BEIJING: The Chinese Communist Party has strongly hinted that the Vice-President, Xi Jinping, will soon receive a key military appointment, which should confirm that he remains on course to be the next president.

Many analysts were surprised when the party last week failed to promote Mr Xi to deputy chairman of the Central Military Commission, which commands the People's Liberation Army.

The President, Hu Jintao, received such a promotion at the equivalent Central Committee plenum meeting during his rise to the top.

Wang Changjiang, director of party building at the Central Party School, told foreign journalists yesterday that the question of Mr Xi's promotion was not even on the agenda of last week's plenum.

But he said such a move could happen soon. "There will be personnel changes in this regard so I hope you can shift your attention to what is coming up," said Professor Wang, adding that he was not privy to internal party personnel decisions.

"It is possible to hold an extended meeting or extra meeting for fine-tuning or adjustments with regards to personnel," he said.

Professor Wang was addressing a press conference organised by the party's International Liaison Department for the purpose of explaining details of last week's party plenum.

That the 204-member central committee did not appoint Mr Xi to the military commission last week means he is unlikely to share the limelight with Mr Hu at National Day celebrations on October 1.

Beijing will be locked down as the latest tanks, missiles, planes and other weapons are paraded down Chang'An - the Avenue of Eternal Peace - and in the skies above Tiananmen Square to celebrate the 60th birthday of the People's Republic.

The Minister for Defence, Liang Guanglie, said on Monday that he believed the parade would ''display the image of a mighty force, a civilised force, a victorious force''.

And he boasted that the Chinese military could now match most of the advanced weapons systems of Western nations, including the J-10 fighter jet, latest-generation tanks, navy destroyers, and cruise and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

''This is an extraordinary achievement that speaks to the level of our military's modernisation and the huge change in our country's technological strength,'' said General Liang, in a rare interview posted on the ministry's website.

Rory Medcalf, director of the Lowy Institute's international security program, said General Liang's comments "suggest there is a new confidence in their signalling on their defence capability". He said the comments added to the sense of confidence projected by the October 1 military parade, China's deployment of ships to fight pirates off Somalia and a new, slick, English-language website.

But Mr Medcalf added that Chinese forces still had a long way to go before matching US capabilities, adding that they had not been tested "since they got a bloody nose in Vietnam" 30 years ago.

A Beijing diplomat said yesterday that General Liang's comments were likely to be directed at assuaging China's nationalistic "angry youth" and also the Ministry of Finance, which has been providing the military with regular double-digit budget increases.

Professor Wang emphasised yesterday that the party has ''absolute leadership'' over the military. The 11-member Central Military Commission consists Mr Hu as chairman and 10 generals.