08/17/2023, 10.45
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Chinese army reshuffle reveals first cracks in Xi Jinping's power

by John Ai

The country's leaders are gathered at the traditional summer summit in the coastal town of Beidahe. A series of uncharacteristic changes among army leaders revives rumors of purges. The president remains aloof and has not yet visited the areas affected by the floods, which have also reached Beijing. Challenges of the economic situation and diplomatic relations.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are meeting in the summer resort of Beidaihe, for the traditional annual summer summit. Following custom, each summer the top leaders of the Asian giant's most important decision-making body - including former leaders - hold informal and secret meetings to discuss the health of the state and the most urgent issues concerning the nation. However, this year's secret meeting is shaken by the negative currents linked to the army and an economy in crisis.

Supreme Leader Xi Jinping has been in power for almost 11 years, but the summit scheduled in Beidaihe this year seems to have historic significance. This time the most influential leaders of the past will not be present in the coastal town: Jiang Zemin died in 2022 at the age of 96 and Xi's predecessor, Hu Jintao, will probably not be present at the meeting.

Hu was ushered to the door during the closing ceremony of the 20th Communist Party Congress and persistent rumors say that he no longer resides in Beijing.

According to Nikkei, the agenda of the meeting includes several topics including the unification of Taiwan, the ultimate goal of the ruling party, in addition to current affairs including the economy and diplomatic policy.

Xi Jinping has been off the radar of official media since early August, as heavy floods are engulfing northern and northeastern China. And unlike his predecessors, the president is absent and has never visited the disaster area so far.

During the August meeting, a reshuffle took place within the People's Liberation Army (PLA) that fueled speculation about the purge of military leadership. The upheaval concerned first of all the Strategic and Tactical Rocket Forces, departments that control the nuclear arsenal and the intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States. The Rocket Force is also a crucial part in the expansion of armaments in the framework of the aims Chinese to the rebellious island of Taiwan.

Beijing is accelerating its plan to expand its nuclear arsenal and develop hypersonic missiles. The discovery of a large number of ICBM silos in the desert of western China dates back to the beginning of the year.

The authorities rarely divulge information on the Missile Forces and the latest move with the announcement of the change of leadership is seen as a sign of turbulence within the army itself.

Under Xi's rule, the division has become an independent branch within the military organization chart and the most sensitive part of the PLA. The commander, General Li Yuchao, and the political commissar, General Xu Zhongbo, were replaced by two other leaders, one from the navy and the other from the air force.

The Chinese military follows the Soviet-style dual leadership model: the commander is responsible for military decisions, while the political commissar is the executor of Communist Party orders.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported in July that Li Yuchao and other incumbent and retired senior Rocket Forces officials were under investigation by the PLA anti-corruption body. Reports also said its top brass were under investigation for leaking military secrets.

The sacked general Li Yuchao was only promoted by Xi early last year. After the 2015 military reform and anti-corruption purges, currently all military elites owe their ascendancy to the current president.

The former deputy commander, General Wu Guohua, passed away in early July and the official media only confirmed his death at the end of the month and the news was removed within hours of being published online.

In addition, Wang Shaojun, former head of the Central Security Bureau (which deals with the bodyguards of top leaders) also died in April, but in this case too the authorities in announced his disappearance after three months.

The leadership of the Eastern Theater Command of the People's Liberation Army, which is near Taiwan, has also undergone a reshuffle. And the announcement of a military exercise in the East China Sea is no coincidence just as the vice-president, as well as candidate for the office of president in the next elections scheduled in Taipei, Lai Ching-te, is visiting the United States.

Recently, both Xi and the army's official media outlet, Pla Daily, have emphasized mutual loyalty. And in August, the party launched a campaign within the armed forces to study Xi Jinping's "thought".

Meanwhile, the reason that led to the removal of former Foreign Minister Qin Gang, and what his situation is today and where he is, remains a mystery. The army reshuffle and Qin Gang's departure are the main challenge to Xi's control over his group.

According to analysts, the incidents have damaged the president's authority and have shown that his grip on the country was not so firm and that the same people he chose did not enjoy full trust.

RED LANTERNS  IS THE ASIANEWS NEWSLETTER DEDICATED TO THE CHINA. TO RECEIVE A WEEKLY UPDATE EVERY THURSDAY, CLICK HERE.

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