Two of the CMC members may have real combat experience, however, China has not fought a war since 1979.


In early August, when the General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China issued the revised “Regulations on the selection and appointment of leading cadres of the party and government”, it was widely believed that Xi Jinping would fill the central committee, the politburo, and the standing committee of the politburo with his loyalists from Fujian, Shanghai, the party school, Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia etc,. regions where he served in various capacities. The Central Military Commission (CMC) of the CPC wasn’t an exception. The dramatic removal of Hu Jintao’s from the closing ceremony of the 20th CPC National Congress, in essence, proclaimed the end of the reform era, and arrival of the new era, in which Xi Jinping would assume the role of the supreme leader of China.

The composition of the seven-member CMC in order is: Xi Jinping (Chairman), Zhang Youxia (Vice Chairman), He Weidong (Vice Chairman), and Li Shangfu, Liu Zhenli, Miao Hua and Zhang Shengmin as members. Zhang Youxia was retained irrespective of attaining 72 years of age, and He Weidong was given out of turn promotion. Liu Zhenli is expected to take over as the chief of the Joint General Staff, while Li Shangfu, who is under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), is likely to take over as the Minister of Defence. Miao Hua, who was retained as a member, will continue to look after the political work inside the commission in tandem with Zhang Shengmin. They are expected to continue to cleanse the PLA from the remnants of Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, the two military “tigers”, who were purged during the first term of Xi Jinping.

Zhang Youxia has been retained owing to his “red genes” (红色基因), his relations with Xi Jinping  and family connections. Like Xi, Zhang also hails from Shaanxi. His father Zhang Zongxun was a close comrade in arms of Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, during China’s bloody civil war against the Kuomintang government. Besides, Zhang is one of the very few People’s Liberation Army (PLA) generals having real combat experience. He has fought in the China-Vietnam war of 1979, and later served in the Beijing Military Region and the Shenyang Military Region before the establishment of theatre commands. While serving in the General Armaments Department (GAD) of the PLA since 2012, Zhang immensely contributed to improving the PLA’s weaponry and technology.

On 18 October, during a panel discussion of the delegations of the PLA and the People’s Armed Police Force, Zhang Youxia was all praise for Xi Jinping and his report presented to the 20th CPC National Congress. Zhang argued that in the past ten years, President Xi had led them to achieve a series of “pioneering and iconic achievements” (开创性标志性的重大成就). “It is the first priority to understand and implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era…” to “firmly support the ‘two establishments’ (两个确立) and ensure that the barrel of the gun always obeys the command of the party (确保枪杆子永远听党指挥). It is necessary to focus on the ‘central task of the party’ ( 党的中心任务), do a good job in preparing for and fighting the war in the new era…and strive to achieve the centenary goal of the founding of the army.”

He Weidong, on the other hand, served as deputy chief of staff of the Nanjing Military Region and commander of the Shanghai garrison. Before moving to the Eastern Theatre Command (ETC) in 2019, He served as commander of the Western Theatre Command (WTC 2016-2019), in a period that culminated into the 73-day Doklam standoff between the Indian Army and the PLA on Bhutanese territory, a precursor to the June 2020 bloody clashes in Galwan. Since January 2022, he has been transferred to the Joint Operations Command Centre of the CMC. Both He Weidong and Miao Hua have served in the 31st Group Army of the PLA in Fujian under Xi Jinping, the then political commissar of the Fujian Military Region.

Li Shangfu, who is poised to be the next defence minister of China, has served in the Science and Technology Commission of the CMC, especially in the aerospace field for several years, and has been the man behind China’s manned space projects in recent years. In 2017, he succeeded Zhang Youxia to become head of the Equipment Development Department of the CMC. Liu Zhenli has also participated in the Sino-Vietnam border skirmishes in 1986. Liu had also served in the Joint Staff Department of the CMC.

Though two of the CMC members may have real combat experience, however, China has not fought a war since 1979. In the face of China’s increasingly aggressive approach in the East China Sea and South China Sea disputes, as well as in the Taiwan Strait, the composition of the CMC looks more like a posturing, as most of the members are from the ground forces and have served in the Eastern Theatre Command. It is believed that the live-fire military exercise to blockade Taiwan in the backdrop of Nancy Pelosi’s visit was scripted by He Weidong. His out of turn promotion could be related to this as well. Without setting any time limit, Xi Jinping has reiterated in his report that “complete reunification of our country must be realised” (祖国 完全统一) and “it can, without doubt, be realised” (一定要实现). If General Zhang Youxia’s resolve to accomplish the “central task”, i.e. realising the second centenary in 2049, is taken into account, the unification will have to wait for a longer period. However, if achieving the centenary goal of founding of the PLA is any timeline, then it will happen before 2027.

Notwithstanding the current posturing and rhetoric, given the complexity of the Taiwan issue and the US and Japan factors, China perhaps is wary about using force at this point in time. However, it would also depend on how Xi governs China, and also the outcome of the next elections in Taiwan and the United States. Since He Weidong has commanded the WTC, India must be cautious about China’s posturing along its northern borders, for China will continue to deny India space in the region and beyond through the so called “competition continuum”in various realms including the borders.


B.R. Deepak is Professor and Chair, Center of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.