BEIJING -- Chinese President Xi Jinping has the armed forces firmly under his thumb as he begins another five-year term, having succeeded in staffing the military's top command positions with his allies.
The members of the Central Military Commission were selected at the first plenary session of the Communist Party's 19th Central Committee on Wednesday. The military body also was shrunk from 11 to seven members including Xi, its chairman. The remaining six posts were filled by military officials who were handpicked for promotion by the president himself during his first term.
Staying on as one of two vice chairmen -- the top post of China's uniformed military commanders -- is Xu Qiliang, a close Xi ally who has pushed military reform with the president's blessing. The second spot passed to Zhang Youxia, a general whose deep ties to the president trace back to their parents' generation. Zhang succeeded the retiring Fan Changlong, who was close to Xi's predecessor Hu Jintao. Party leaders had considered adding two more vice-chairman positions, but refrained at this juncture.
Zhang has played a key role in the military's modernization, including overseeing the construction of China's first domestically built aircraft carrier.
The other four seats were filled by officials who have risen rapidly since Xi became chairman of the military commission in 2012. Li Zuocheng was recently made chief of the People's Liberation Army's Joint Staff Department, the highest rank for officers in active service.
Li is one of the few members of the top brass with actual combat experience, having been awarded the status of "war hero" for his actions during the border conflict with Vietnam in 1979.
After Li was made major general in 1997, his career stalled until 2009, when he was promoted to lieutenant general. Sources said it took that long because his relationship with former President Jiang Zemin had soured; Jiang was the Communist Party's general secretary from 1989 to 2002, and president from 1993 to 2003.
Zhang also fought in the conflict with Vietnam. By bringing in leaders with battlefield experience, China is girding itself for an increasingly tense period in international affairs.
Miao Hua, political commissar of the PLA Navy, has links to Fujian Province, where Xi spent years climbing the rungs of power, and is said to have close ties with the president.