China's New Defense Minister Lacks Power
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI - With the conclusion of China's First Session of the 11th National People's Congress on March 18, Gen. Liang Guanglie, a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since 1959, was selected to replace Gen. Cao Gangchuan as defense minister.
Sources say the position is largely "protocol" because military policy is set by the Central Military Commission (CMC), headed by President Hu Jintao, not by the minister of defense.
"It is notable that the holder [Liang] of the defense minister post is neither a member of the Politburo nor a vice chairman of the CMC. I'd be surprised if this appointment carries much significance," said a China defense specialist. The Congress also appointed Liang as a state councilor, a higher rank than Cabinet minister, heightening his power by placing him in an advisory role.
However, there are "no set patterns for who is selected as a CCP CMC vice chairman and minister of defense," explained another specialist on China's military.
"The minister of defense holds his power as a member or vice chairman of the CCP CMC. Over the past 20 years, it has depended on the situation at the time," said the source, "but not all appointments have coincided with the CCP Party Congress."
The number of CMC vice chairmen has "fluctuated over the years, including a civilian vice chairman [Hu Jintao]. Each defense minister has concurrently been either a CCP CMC member or a vice chairman, but not every chief of the General Staff has become a vice chairman, and some defense ministers have not previously been the chief of the General Staff. Not all CMC vice chairmen and ministers of defense have been members of the CCP Politburo."
According to his official biography, Liang joined the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) in 1958, serving in an engineer company. He rose up the ranks to serve as chief of staff, Beijing Military Area Command from 1993-1995, deputy commander, Beijing Military Area Command from 1995-1997, commander, Shenyang Military Area Command from 1997-1999, and commander, Nanjing Military Area Command from 1999-2002. The Nanjing command is responsible for preparing for war with Taiwan.
Since 2002, Liang has served as a member of the CCP CMC.