China puts air force and navy generals in key posts
By tapping officials with air and coastal warfare experience, it is positioning itself for any battle over Taiwan Strait

The Straits Times

August 16, 2003

By Oliver Chou

CHINA has stepped up preparations for any battle over the Taiwan Strait by moving several generals with experience in air and coastal operations to key positions.

According to reports, Lieutenant-General Zheng Shenxia, 61, chief of staff of the air force, was recently appointed president of the Academy of Military Sciences, the top think-tank on military strategy.

He is the first airman to head the academy since it was founded in 1958 by the late Marshal Ye Jianying.

Analysts believe this reflects an increased emphasis by Beijing on improving research and planning for airborne operations rather than traditional ground force movements.

The implications are obvious: Should hostilities break out over the Taiwan Strait, it is the air force and navy of the People's Liberation Army that will do most of the fighting.

Just as significant is the appointment of Lt-Gen Pei Huailiang as the new commandant of the National Defence University, another top military institute.

For the past 13 years, the 62-year-old veteran had served in two of the three military regions along China's south-eastern coastline - three years as deputy chief of staff in the Nanjing command in the early 1990s, and a decade as deputy commander of the Jinan military region.

Analysts believe it is this extensive experience at the front line with Taiwan that accounted for his latest appointment.

He is expected to help reshape the strategic thinking of successive batches of senior officers who attend the university.

Apart from Lt-Gen Zheng and Lt-Gen Pei, a number of other senior officers were also rotated recently through key jobs in Nanjing, Jinan and Guangzhou - the third of the military regions along the coastline facing Taiwan - as well as the national command in Beijing.

For example, Lt-Gen Ye Aiqun and Lt-Gen Xiong Ziren of Guangzhou were named deputy commander and deputy commissar of Nanjing region while Major-General Liu Zhongxing, former commander of the Guangxi-based Seventh Air Corps, is now head of Jinan's air force.

Observers say the shuffling is to enhance inter-region and inter-services coordination, all in preparation for any fighting over the strait.

The ultimate aim is to have a mix of top officers in each of the three regions facing Taiwan, including one with vast experience in airborne operations. In the event of war, all three regions become one well-coordinated theatre.

Take Nanjing military region, for example. Its commander Zhu Wenquan has been there for years but political commissar Lei Mingqiu, the second-in-line, is from Guangzhou.

Lt-Gen Ye and Lt-Gen Xiong are the two new deputy chiefs moved in from Guangzhou while a third deputy commander, Lt-Gen Ma Diansheng, is the former commander of the 15th Airborne Corps under Guangzhou.

Completing the Nanjing line-up are commanders of the East Sea Fleet and the regional air force, Vice-Admiral Zhao Guojun and Maj-Gen Liu Chengjun, who rank as ex-officio deputy chiefs.

It may be noted that Maj-Gen Liu was a new appointment from within the Nanjing air command, filling in the vacancy left by his boss Ma Xiaotian, who was promoted as vice-commander of the air force national command.

Analysts believe these appointments have strengthened Beijing's command and control over the regions.

It is no coincidence that the incumbent chief of the general staff Liang Guanglie was formerly commander of the Nanjing command.