The Third Plenum admitted that the forthcoming reforms would decide the destiny of modern China. The statement concluded with “the need to deepen reforms in order to build a moderately prosperous society, and a strong and democratic country, as well as realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.” Xi Jinping’s reforms may remain a dream. Sinocism, an excellent newsletter which analyzes the current events in China, commented: “The decision is impressive and shows that the leadership is both aware of and committed to deep reforms. …the truly hard part is not the drafting but the implementation of changes that will affect interests throughout society. But at least Xi has clearly articulated [his] resolve and vision for reform.” Is it enough?
The new leadership in Beijing had decided to bet on development and reforms…
The Central Committee’s Third Plenum
“China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is striving to maintain its glorious wartime reputation by advancing military reform and putting paid to the ethos of decadence,” said an editorial of The PLA Daily, the day after the Third Plenum of the 18th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee (a four day-conclave held from November 09 to 12, 2013). The Party had just delivered two new Leading Groups: one on reforms (it was expected) and more surprisingly, a National Security Committee (NSC).
The new leadership in Beijing had decided to bet on development and reforms, “The general objective of the approved reforms is to improve and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics …development is still the key to solving all problems in China,” affirmed a statement of the Central Committee. Xi Jinping and his colleagues seem to have seen the clouds gathering in the Middle Kingdom’s sky; for the present Emperors, the only way to avoid the fate of former Soviet Union (where the internal security apparatus had become weak, corrupt and ineffective), was to act fast; reforms needed to be introduced at once, or else the Communist Party’s days would be counted.
The Third Plenum admitted that the forthcoming reforms would decide the destiny of modern China. The statement concluded with “the need to deepen reforms in order to build a moderately prosperous society, and a strong and democratic country, as well as realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.”
Xi Jinping’s reforms may remain a dream; Sinocism, an excellent newsletter which analyzes the current events in China, commented: “The decision is impressive and shows that the leadership is both aware of and committed to deep reforms. …the truly hard part is not the drafting but the implementation of changes that will affect interests throughout society. But at least Xi has clearly articulated [his] resolve and vision for reform.” Is it enough?
President Xi Jinping has made it clear that the PLA should be ready ‘to fight and win battles’…
Reforms in the People’s Liberation Army?
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has immediately understood the change in the wind: “The people have noticed that certain army cadres have only a vague understanding of their mission after a long break from combat, and have become lazy in their primary tasks,” asserts the same editorial of The PLA Daily. It criticized army officials who lack the ‘awareness of always being ready to fight’ and even admits that some soldiers “have not been trained hard enough and the quality of military training is not good enough. They are just not up for the fight.” The PLA Daily reminds its readers that the primary task and ultimate duty of military leaders should be to ‘lead soldiers in battles’: “Everything the army does should be about fighting, and everything counts for nothing, if the army cannot win battles.”
In other words, the role of the PLA is not to get into business ventures or enjoy a comfortable life. The article asks, “Can today the PLA continue to win battles, when it faces very real, complicated threats and fierce military competition?” This raises is a serious question, and as often in China, the mere fact that the question is asked means that Beijing is facing a difficult and real problem in that particular area.
Since he took over the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission (CMC), President Xi Jinping has made it clear that the PLA should be ready ‘to fight and win battles’. He has asserted time and again that to build a modern military power (‘with Chinese characteristics and under the Party’s leadership’) reforms are badly required. The PLA publication mentions a few of these reforms: “to optimise the size and structure of the army, reform the leadership system, and reduce non-combat institutions and personnel”. The negative ethos (in another word, corruption) needs to be curbed and the sense of duty and responsibility of senior army officials needs to be enhanced, says the Party.
The PLA Daily adds: “Combat effectiveness should be a core standard in leadership, logistics, armaments and other sectors of the army. Tactics and training must be regarded as the main job of the army leadership. Leaders should encourage strategic studies, grasp the internal logic of IT-based wars and enhance their capacity to control informationalised equipment.” It clearly signifies that it is not the case in the ranks of the PLA today.
An editorial of The PLA Daily criticized army officials who lack the ‘awareness of always being ready to fight’…
Something Rotten in the Middle Kingdom
In November 2012, soon after the 18th Congress designated a new set of leaders, a long report about the Chinese society appeared in Chinascope, a dissident website affiliated with the Falun Gong Group. It quoted Xun Zi (313 BC–238 BC), the famous philosopher from the Warring States period, who would have said: “The Emperor is the boat and the people are the water. Water can carry the boat, but also capsize the boat.”
The report concludes, “If the Chinese people continue to distrust their government [today’s Emperor] and actions against the government intensify, it may be inevitable for the CCP boat to capsize.”
During his first speech as CCP General Secretary, Xi Jinping asked his party men to stay clean and self-disciplined, cautioning about the likelihood of the party losing its hold over China due to corruption. Xinhua reported that the CCP disciplinary watchdogs1 have called for efforts to halt extravagance during the 2013 Spring Festival. The notification says, “The use of public funds to purchase cigarettes, liquor and gifts for government officials should be strictly prohibited.
Public spending on extravagant banquets, travel, entertainment or sporting activities will also be prohibited during the New Year holiday, as well as February’s Spring Festival. Officials are prohibited from receiving any gifts in the form of cash, negotiable securities or convertible coupons during official occasions; officials are banned from illegally collecting funds from enterprises or individuals in the form of sponsorships for such occasions. Authorities are also requiring strict regulation over the use of government cars for private purposes. Government departments have been told to refrain from diverting public funds to pamper officials and workers. Officials are also banned from using their holidays to lobby or bribe people for promotions, as well as buy votes for official selection procedures.” And no holiday gambling! Similar rules applied to the Army.
The CMC issued ten regulations requiring PLA officials to cut the number and length of inspection tours, overseas visits or unnecessary meetings. Military speakers should avoid empty talk while PLA officials are requested not to attend “ribbon-cutting and cornerstone-laying ceremonies, celebrations or seminars unless they have the CMC’s approval.” Further, the new rules say: “The use of vehicles equipped with sirens will be rigorously controlled during official visits in order to prevent public disturbances.”
Two things have been causing a great deal of concern to Beijing lately: stability and security…
It may sound familiar in India, but it is not for the poor (or rich) Chinese Generals, “Officials are also required to discipline their spouses, children and subordinates and make sure they do not take bribes.” That is a tough one; ‘officials’ may not always be ‘Generals’ at home. The South China Morning Post reported that Xi Jinping issued another order making the lives of the Chinese generals and senior officers even more difficult. They “have to serve as the lowest-ranking soldiers for at least two weeks per year”. Apparently, President Xi Jinping wants to ‘shake up the military and boost morale’. The Hong Kong newspaper explains: “It dictates that officers with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel or above must serve as ‘privates’ — the lowest-ranking soldier — for not less than 15 days in a year. Generals and officers will have to live, eat and serve with junior soldiers during the period. They need to provide for themselves and pay for their own food.”
Even the periodicity of the ‘training’ for senior most officers is detailed: “Division and Army [Commander] level commanders must serve once every four years. Top leaders from army headquarters and military districts will do so once every five years.” Further horror, all military vehicles must be given new car plates; blacklisted sedans include Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lincoln, Cadillac, Bentley, Jaguar and Porsche and a few others. In other words, the Great Proletarian Revolution for the PLA!
One can imagine the resentment at the senior level of the PLA; for some generals, it may look more like a Nightmare than the Chinese Dream propagated by Xi Jinping.
Antony Wong Dong, a Macau-based veteran military expert told The South China Morning Post: “The lack of discipline, the rampant corruption and the gap between the officers and soldiers are so commonplace, it has compromised the battle-effectiveness of the PLA. Many Generals and senior officers today have never experienced hardship. They are promoted to their position because of their connections or other reasons.”
In the 1990s, General Wang Zhen, one of the CCP’s Eight Elders, lying in a Beijing military hospital told a visitor he felt betrayed: “Decades after he risked his life fighting for an egalitarian utopia, the ideals he held as one of Communist China’s founding fathers were being undermined by the capitalist ways of his children – business leaders in finance, aviation and computers.” Wang Zhen called the new generation ‘Turtle eggs’, a slang term for bastards: “I don’t acknowledge them as my sons.” The problem seems to be that there are many ‘turtle eggs’ in China today!
Tibet and Xinjiang are two of the ‘internal’ threats which will be dealt with by the new body…
The National Security Committee
Two things have been causing a great deal of concern to Beijing lately: stability and security. When the 204-member Central Committee discussed building a fairer and more sustainable social security system, encompassing an improved housing guarantee, strengthening the protection of intellectual property rights and encouraging innovation, the background was ‘stability’.
According to Xi Jinping, the new economic policies can only be implemented if China is stable: “State security and social stability are preconditions for reform and development”, said the President, adding that only when the nation is safe and society is stable, could reform and development constantly advance. This seems the justification for the creation of the National Security Committee (NSC) which will deal with internal as well as external issues: “China is facing two pressures: internationally, the country needs to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests; domestically, political security and social stability should be ensured”, explained Xi, adding: “The variety of predictable and unpredictable risks has been increasing remarkably, and the system has not yet met the needs of safeguarding state security.” Reuters said that, “it will enable the government to speak with a single voice when it comes to dealing with crises at home and abroad.” Does China today speak with more than one voice in the East China Sea or the Indian border in Ladakh? Probably!
‘Internal’ security has traditionally meant muzzling the opposition to the regime. It will continue. It was reported that a sophisticated new system allowing tracking of messages in the languages of all of the mainland’s ethnic groups has recently been introduced in China. The report added: “The system is aimed at local authorities in areas such as Xinjiang and Tibet, where security officials do not know the local language.”
Tibet and Xinjiang are two of the ‘internal’ threats which will be dealt with by the new body. Recently, repression has increased in both the restive regions. The self-immolations in Tibet have been the most visible consequence of the stiffening of the security apparatus. While actively popularising the Internet, the Plenum decided to ‘reinforce its overall administration over cyberspace in accordance with the law and accelerate formation of a sound Internet management system”. Sounds ominous for the ‘minorities’!
‘Internal’ security has traditionally meant muzzling the opposition to the regime…
Analysts believe that the NSC is based on the National Security Agency of the United States and may have snooping facilities like in the US. Reuters says that the NSC, “would increase coordination among the various wings of China’s security bureaucracy, split now among the police, military, intelligence and diplomatic services.” What are the reforms contemplated by Beijing today?
The Reform of the PLA
Traditionally, the ground forces played a major role in China; in the past, there was no question of a joint operation with the PLAN (Navy) and the PLAAF (Air Force) participating on equal footing as the PLA. Speaking on the question of structural and organisational reforms of the Chinese military, Yang Yujun, the spokesman of the Ministry of National Defense (MND) admitted that the PLA “has made explorations in that field”, he added that the Chinese PLA, “will deepen reform in good time and blaze a trail in reform on joint operation command system with Chinese characteristics.” Yang gave some examples: “the ratio of officers to soldiers and that of troop units to organs are not reasonable in the PLA”. Furthermore, “to cope with threats and challenges facing national security, the scale and structure of the Chinese military should be further optimised and the proportion of combat forces should be raised, so as to enhance the Chinese military’s ability of fighting and winning battles.”
In the wake of the Plenum, military schools were told to review their curricula ‘to boost real combat abilities’, as a PLA publication put it. According to an official statement, “the reform will also unify teaching materials, innovate in teaching methods for combat command and hone a performance-based reward and penalty mechanism for students.” The military academies and universities should thereafter, “foster talent in accordance with the goals of strengthening the army and boosting students’ ideological and political quality, adopting a combat-oriented educational system”, adding “concrete efforts should be made to cultivate high-quality military talents that are capable of participating in and winning a war”.
The new NSC will probably overview and monitor these ‘reform’ programs. A Chinese publication emphasizes that the PLA should “better co-ordinate the work of its different military and geographical branches”.
According to Xi Jinping, the new economic policies can only be implemented if China is stable…
Does it mean that the CMC will change the army’s command structure to enhance its capacity to ‘win modern wars’? The South China Morning Post quoted military officials and experts saying that the PLA was keen on innovation but was unlikely to build a chain of united commands like the US Pacific Command, which co-ordinates regional military, terrorism and crime-fighting.
Xu Guangyu, a former PLA major general who is now a senior researcher at the Beijing-based China Arms Control and Disarmament Association told the Hong Kong newspaper: “The PLA will definitely make reforms but its steps cannot be too big…All foreign countries’ military systems could be a reference, but it doesn’t mean the PLA will copy any one of them. Past experience shows us that the current system still works. It just needs some improvement.” The leadership cannot go too fast with many ‘vested interests’ and lobbies in the PLA.
The Plenum also decided to call for “innovation in military theory, strengthening military leadership, improving military strategy in the new era, and building a modern military power system with Chinese characteristics.”
All this means a centralisation of the power in the CMC; in other words, in Xi Jingping’s hands; his role will thereafter be ‘optimised’. Interestingly, ‘quality privately-owned enterprises will be allowed to join the defence industry’. India should perhaps study these reforms and learn from them?