The relationship will be closely watched as China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, begins to stamp his authority on the Communist Party and the military. Xi, the “princeling” son of late party leader, military commander and economic reformer Xi Zhongxun, has clearly signaled he will be a strong nationalist. His first speeches after taking power in November had a strong patriotic flavor, with appeals for a “renaissance” of the Chinese nation.
As chairman of the Central Military Commission and head of the party, Xi takes command of the PLA after years of cementing close ties with influential senior officers.
One of his jobs after graduation from university was personal secretary to Geng Biao, a revolutionary military commander who became Defense minister after the Cultural Revolution.
Xi is close to two influential and outspoken officers who like him are themselves princelings, or offspring of senior leaders: army general Liu Yuan, and air force general Liu Yazhou. (The two are not related.)
Xi can even be said to be married to the military. His wife, celebrity folk singer Peng Liyuan, is a civilian member of the PLA, holding a rank equivalent to major general.
Some analysts say Xi’s family background and his own experience will enable him to exert more control over the PLA than his predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.
“Xi has nothing to prove to the military,” said former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a Mandarin speaking ex-diplomat who has held talks with the new Chinese leader on several occasions. “There is no reason for him to overcompensate for them.”
While it is too early to say if Xi will encourage or tolerate his outspoken generals, political analysts agree the hawks can be silenced when it suits the political leadership. When Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the United States in early 2011, it was important to Beijing that the high profile visit go smoothly and Hu receive state honors in Washington. Hawkish talk among the officer pundits died down in the run-up to that trip.