WASHINGTON — In a move intended to show military loyalty before a government reshuffle later this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping has his troops to call him "chairman," according to Nikkei Asian Review.
The name-change was revealed during Xi's high-profile trip to Hong Kong for the 20th anniversary celebration of the former British colony's return to Chinese rule.
The night before the July 1 ceremony, Xi attended a military inspection parade. Instead of the standard term shouzhang, a generic Chinese word used to refer to a leader or commander, his troops called him "zhuxi" during the lowkey inspection.
Zhuxi, or chairman, is reserved for the top leader of the state, but has recently been exchanged in favor of the term General Secretary. Only one other modern Chinese leader has used Chairman — Mao Zedong, the revolution leader and eventual dictator of the communist nation.
"This significant departure from party protocol reflects the president's ambitions in this politically sensitive year," said Katsuji Nakazawa, senior staff writer for Nikkei Asian Review.
Xi’s move symbolizes his full control of the military’s loyalty and his desire to establish himself as China's most powerful leader since Mao. Xi was recently named "core" of the communist party and has been pushing party loyalty, a prerogative characteristic of Mao, according to the Economist.
Last year saw an overwhelming increase in positive-Xi messaging from the media followed by a long list of higher-ups swearing loyalty to Xi and the Communist Party in 2017, presumably as a result of his appointment as "core."
As a military leader, Xi is known for his plans for a massive restructuring of the People’s Liberation Army, which began in 2015. According to Defense News, he wants to create a smaller but more technologically advanced and strategically ready fighting force.
The move is supported by a defense budget increase of 7 percent announced in March by China.
Compared to the U.S., China spends only a fraction on defense but has the world’s largest military. Even after Xi’s plans to lay off 300,000 troops, China would remain larger than the U.S. military’s 1.4 million personnel by half a million as of January of this year.
Still, the U.S. maintains a stronger overseas presence as illustrated by its operations in over 100 countries compared with China’s aversion to overseas alliances. This does not, however, stop the nation from thwarting U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to starve North Korea of funds, according to the Atlantic.
Trump’s desire for China to cease trade with North Korea is firm, but the results are not. According to a tweet by Trumpon June 5, trade between North Korea and China grew almost 40 percent in the first quarter.
However, after meeting on the last day of the G20 summit, both leaders were optimistic about their relationship, with Xi announcing that the Chinese Navy will participate in the upcoming U.S.-led Pacific Rim military exercises.
"As far as North Korea is concerned, we will have, eventually, success," Trump said, according to the Atlantic. "It may take longer than I’d like. It may take longer than you'd like. But there will be success in the end one way or the other."