October 3, 2007:
up in the Chinese military leadership. The head of the air force was just
replaced, at least two years before that would have normally happened. He was
not alone. The major commands in China are the chief of staff (who runs
everything), and those in charge of the army, navy and air force, as well as
the seven regional commands. Over half these commanders have been replaced
recently, and more are expected to be eased out. Part of this is to get
younger, less corrupt and more imaginative, men into those positions. But
there's also a question of loyalty.
In China, the troops swear
allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party, not China. Maintaining the loyalty
of the military is seen as the most important task of the party bureaucrats.
That, however, presents some problems. First, there is the corruption. It has
gotten worse in the military over the last two decades. Officers getting rich
this way, don't feel terribly loyal when ordered to give up a lot of their
income. Compounding this problem is the one with modernization of the military.
Most of the armed forces are using weapons and equipment that were, in many
cases, the latest and greatest half a century ago. Buying new equipment isn't
enough, you need officers who know how to use the new gear effectively. That's
been a problem. Bright young Chinese have not been flocking to military careers
for over a decade. There's more money to be made as a civilian. So the party
leaders have to search through the officer corps looking for people who are
capable, not too corrupt and, above all, loyal to the Communist Party. This
last requirement has been an insurmountable barrier for many otherwise
qualified officers. This means that Chinese military commanders will always be
rather less than they could be. To Chinese, this problem seems to explain the
traditional ineffectiveness of the military after long periods of peace. The
current political leadership seems determined to overcome this problem, no
matter how many dismissed generals it takes.