On July 29, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who also is chairman of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, presided over a ceremony in Beijing to promote Xu Zhongbo to the rank of general.
The Military Commission is the Party’s top agency for commanding the military.
While the event was supposed to be a celebration, the response from both the audience and Xu was lifeless and deadly silent, based on state media footage.
Prior to his promotion, Xu was political commissar of the rocket force within China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), according to state media China Daily. In Chinese officialdom, it’s rare for the Military Commission to hold an awards ceremony for a single officer.
So, what is the significance of Xi’s move on the eve of Aug. 1, the anniversary of the Chinese regime’s army founding?
The ‘Red Envelope’ to Win Military Support
The PLA is “the gun that is always under the command of the Party.” For the military, the importance of “Army Founding Day” is second only to the Chinese New Year—called the Spring Festival in mainland China—and could be called the “Second Spring Festival.” Therefore, when the “Second Spring Festival” is approaching, being the leader of the Party and the army, it’s only natural for Xi to offer a gift “red envelope” at the celebration.
Of course, it’s impossible for everyone to receive a gift such as a promotion. It was decided that the “red envelope” be given to Xu. Xi clearly delivered his message: Listen to the Party, and be loyal to the Party; don’t learn from Xu Caihou, Guo Boxiong, Gu Junshan, Fang Fenghui, and Zhang Yang, generals who were sacked over allegations of corruption.
The promotion didn’t just send a message to the rocket force, but also to the air force, the army, and the navy: Being loyal to the Party is equivalent to being loyal to me!
While Xi didn’t make that explicitly clear, everyone understood.
The Muscle to Deter Political Opposition
The CCP started as a bunch of factions constantly fighting each other. To the winner, it’s always of foremost importance whether the military is on their side. Many people believe that the “Gang of Four,” including Mao’s third wife, who seemed so powerful and unstoppable during the Cultural Revolution, were brought down because they lacked military support.
The purge of two former general secretaries of the CCP, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, was also evidently due, to some extent, by the lack of military support.
In recent years, there has been a wave of backlash against Xi within the CCP, from a faction that include former Party leader Jiang Zemin, his right-hand-man Zeng Qinghong, and their followers. There have been endless rumors of coups and assassination attempts.
During the CCP’s annual “Two Sessions” political meetings this year, the split between Xi and premier Li Keqiang was made public. This was the first admission that the Party and state government apparatus had come apart, and the Party’s image of unity was broken.
Simply put, Xi is struggling. Proceeding on his current path of love for power and protecting the Party, he will continue the game to the end. Xi’s final fate could be to follow in the footsteps of Nicolae Ceausescu, the last communist leader in Romania, who was overthrown and executed in 1989.
At present, Xi holds the Party—its power and its life—in his hands. To firmly grasp the military would greatly ensure his safety. Standing at the ceremony and accepting the salute from the newly promoted general, Xi may have been sending a message to his political opponents: Princelings from all walks of life, stay cool with me. See? I have this guy in my hand!
Rocket Force and the South China Sea
The rocket force, formerly called the Second Artillery Corps, was established on Dec. 31, 2015. Since then, the CCP’s army has changed from the three armies of land, sea, and air to the four armies of land, sea, air, and missiles during the Xi era.
At the inauguration ceremony in 2015, Xi emphasized that the PLA Strategic Support Force is a new-type combat force to maintain “national security” and is critical to developing the PLA’s combat capabilities.
The establishment of the rocket force was important to Xi, as it realized his “China Dream” and the “Dream of a Strong Military,” as well as being a strategic initiative to build a modern military power system with Chinese characteristics.
Recently, military confrontations between the United States and China in the South China Sea have escalated. Two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups appeared in the region, reconnaissance aircraft have flown over the Taiwan Strait many times, and a P-8A anti-submarine aircraft has approached as close as 76.5 kilometers (about 48 miles) to Shanghai.
Should the United States and China enter a conflict in the South China Sea, the four armies at Xi’s command will be put to the test. China’s army, navy, and air force are no match for the United States. The only unit with some function is the rocket force. But, it’s Xi’s last card, and this may have been another important reason why he had to throw a “red envelope” at the rocket force.
In conclusion, in its dying state, the CCP is like a critically ill patient in the intensive care unit, but there is no hope of recovery. Xi, although committed to protecting the Party, is deeply trapped by challenges to the Party and factional coups.
Thus, Xi is sitting on a volcano.
Shan Fengchen is an independent scholar who specializes in studying the history of the Chinese Communist Party.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.