In the settling dust of the trial of the disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai late last year, one question still lingers, or banned for Chinese media and largely ignored by/confused for Western media: Why Bo was tried in Jinan, Shandong Province? He has almost no known connections to that province, neither professionally nor personally. Western media cite the randomness and impartiality of a third-party province to ensure justice, but why Jinan, why can’t it be any other 33 municipalities in China?
The answer lies in the regional military alliance to the central government.
There are seven military regions in China, the branch in Jinan being one. The former general in the Jinan Military Region, Fan Changlong, is an outlier among all the generals–He is loyal to the military chief incumbent, whoever that person is, rather than dead-heartedly loyal to the former military chief, Jiang Zengmin, like the rest of the generals, according to YuanBo net, an insider news website routinely blocked by the China government for shocking party-insider coverage. The website is believed to be backed by activists located in Hong Kong and overseas.
This kind of loyalty was transferred to the current Chinese president/Military Chief, Xi Jinping, to whom Fan is only second to in the military ranks in China. There was a rumored coup in Beijing by Bo Xilai affiliates trying to take Xi’s place, which was of course immediately crushed. But gun powder appears to be the ultimate decision maker and assurance for political events in China, so putting Bo’s trial in a military region where Xi has absolute power over is the safest bet for a new leader still cleansing the ranks of non-loyal members.
Fan made headlines back in 2012 when he was promoted to his current position of Vice Chairman of the Central Military commission. Fan was only a regional general at the time. Such a promotion broke traditions that only limited number of Central Military Commission members were up for such a step-up.
The reason for how Fan was able to jump to the top of the ladder in such short period of time dates back to 2008 when the earthquake in Sichuan province shock the spin of the nation. Immediately after the earthquake, then premier Wen Jiabao hopped on an airplane southbound hoping to mobilize the local military for the rescue. But all the generals of Military Regions were still cult-like loyal only to Jiang Zemin, despite the official account that the Military Chief title had already been transferred to the Hu/Wen administration. Wen was able to get only 2,000 local mercy solders to the site. All the generals tried to delay the effort saying that it would take them at least 72 hours to get the force ready–72 hours for a troop to show up in such emergency would have the equivalent functionality of a body removing team, not a rescue team–well, all the generals, except for Fan from the Jinan Military Region.
Fan called Wen on the airplane asking if Wen needs his troops for rescue–the only floating log in rapids–the rest is history. Despite an estimated casualty of close to 70,000, the Wen administration was widely appraised for its swift rescue effort, better than how the Bush administration reacted to the Hurricane Katrina, at least.
So there you have it–Fan was promoted to the second-ranking military officer in the country after his shrewd move aligning with the ministration incumbent rather than behind-the-scene powers. Fan has since gained greater responsibilities including representing China’s military force during multiple high-ranking military officers visited China-such as Mymmar’s president U Thein Sein and chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey last year. Fan is for sure a person to watch as Xi continues to roll out his reforms, as Fan has already been and will continue to be used as an important executor and guarantor for Xi’s power.