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China: Empowering President XI To Deal With Security Challenges

Apparently, growing challenges to China’s national security, both external and internal, have assumed dimensions that demand new thinking and new strategies. China is no longer an East Asia power. It is striving to draw parity with the US. In the larger global context, therefore, areas of challenges are increasing.

Internally, the challenges are more immediate and sharp. Terrorism/separatism activities by Uighurs have sharply increased and spread over a larger geographical area. Then there is the issue of social stability lurking in different forms.

In an effort to find an architecture to confront and counter these challenges, the University of International Relations International Strategy and Security Research Center of National Security (in brief National Security Center) released (May 06) China’s first Blue Book of National Security, in Beijing. The study covered the developments of the last one year to make its recommendations. The Blue Book is not a government document, at the same time it can be considered quasi official. There would be a classified section of the study which will be with the government. Public dissemination of the unclassified portion is to make a statement of transparency.

The study put special emphasis on the newly formed State Security Committee (SSC) headed by president Xi Jinping. It is the same as the National Security Committee (NSC). According to the report the SSC is the highest decision making body on national security, and will coordinate both domestic and overseas security. The concept of security has been broadened to include any development or instrument that can negatively impact China.

Four functions for the SSC/NSC were proposed by the Blue Book:

(i) The national security strategy will no longer be confined to military issues but developed in macro and overall perspectives. (ii) Develop new national security law to encompass military, political, diplomatic, economic, cultural, science and technology, information, ecology, intelligence, and other areas. (iii) Develop policies to deal with major domestic and foreign security crises and emergencies. (iv) The body should involve all major ministries and departments including not only state security, intelligence and military but also the foreign office and Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan offices. Keeping terrorism/separatism aside for a moment, the Blue Book recommendations are not really politically innocent. As party General Secretary, President and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), Xi Jinping had all the powers that normally the top leader should have. In fact, he did not even have to wait to take over the CMC that his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin had to. As the senior leader who brought to a close the Cultural Revolution and the leftist citadel, as well as reform and opening up, Deng Xiaoping only held the post of a vice premier and that of the chairman of the CMC. The vice premier’s post was to give him a governmental role. He had to perforce retain the CMC with him because at that time the military leaders were long marchers who refused to accept new leaders like Hu Yaobang as their head. Deng’s power and influence flowed from his career graph of a political leader, and also as a military leader during the Long March.

Xi’s intentions per se are good. He has to save the communist party which had gone into disrepute. Rescuing the party was the prime challenge. This and many other challenges were yet to be resolved. To garner all power in his hand Xi would have to show that the existing structure was not capable of securing the core interests of China, that is, supremacy of the party and threats to the security and sovereignty of the nation. Mao Zedong used the threat from rightists to move the newly realized communists to support him.

Certainly, corruption in China had reached such a point that the people’s ire came out in the open. Xi used this to hit hard against corruption. But the targets were political enemies. Starting from Bo Xilai the former party chief of Changqing Municipality Xi moved to attack Zhou Yangkang. This is an unprecedented level of prosecution. Bo was a Politburo member with a big career ahead of him. Zhou was a Politburo Standing Committee member in the last party Central Committee, and a very powerful man.

According to a Hong Kong media report the recast anti-corruption body, the Central Commission of Discipline Inspection (CCDI) is investigating five of the largest Chinese enterprise groups in Hong Kong. They are China Resources, the Bank of China, China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC), the China Everbrite Group, and the China Merchants Group (May edition of the Chen Ming Monthly). Briefly, the charges against these companies include they were running independently with little or no adherence to law and stalling all efforts to rectify them. These companies were run by the children, grandchildren and relatives of government officials. Between 63 to 75 of them held foreign passports or residence cards, enjoying lavish salaries and benefits.

It is reported that Zeng Qinghong, the No 2 in Jiang Zemin’s clique, had overall influence on these Hong Kong based companies because of his earlier post as manager of Hong Kong and Macao works, and his influence continued. The main target is alleged to be Zeng Qinghong and, by inference, the Jiang Zemin clique.

Xi Jinping is trying to bring down two major power centers. One is the Zhou Yangkang led powerful “petroleum” lobby, and equally influential Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai clique. These are powerful groups. The petroleum lobby existed even during Mao’s time. The Hong Kong companies are linked to Jiang, who still retains significant influence.

The Blue Book, of course, cannot mention the intra party problems which can be seen as power struggle. But the wide ranging powers sought for the NSC/SSC would be required to fight the powerful entrenched interest groups.

Available translations from the Blue Book suggests the urgency is to tackle terrorism. The Chinese authorities perceive that the “three evils”, “terrorism, ethnic separatism, and religious extremism” comprise the biggest challenge to not only stability and security, but threaten Chinese interests in neighbouring countries. The Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region have became increasingly militant since the July 2008 riots in Urumqi when more than 200 people were killed.

Last year, the Uighurs commited 10 serious incidents (attacks). In one such attack an Uighur couple with a mother drove into a crowd in Tiananmen Square, killing some and blowing themselves up. It is still not certain if this was a network planned incident by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) or the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), or whether it was an individual act.

This year already four incidents have taken place, the last one on April 31 when Xi Jinping was visiting Xinjiang. Xi, who had recently declared a “hit first’ policy against the Uighur separatists, has overseen several new steps to counter Uighur separatists. This includes an unofficial ban on Uighur men keeping beards, using Uighurs to spy on Uighurs, and cracking down on mosques among other things.

The People’s Republic of China is used to crushing any opposition ruthlessly. That is their problem solving formula. As the global stage shrinks such methods may not be possible any longer.

The geographical area of the terrorist strikes have increased. They are no longer localized in Xinjiang but have occurred as far away as Beijing and Kunming. Closing Kebab stalls in Beijing is not the kind of brain wave to counter terrorism. What has limited the extent of damage is the non-availability of weapons and ammunition in China’s black markets. The terrorists are making do with knives, swords and homemade bombs from fire cracker material. But it may not be long before lethal explosives find their way across the western borders.

Too much of hard hitting on Muslim culture, religion and way of life may also incite other Muslim minorities in the country.

Uighur militants have formed links with hard-line Islamic terrorists over the years. They have fought along with the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. The al Qaida are voicing support to the Chinese Uighurs and may even retaliate against Chinese workers in Pakistan, Afghanistan and some of the African countries. Incidents have happened. With Uighurs in Central Asian countries empathizing with Chinese Uighurs, China’s silk routes through Pakistan and Central Asia may not be safe.

China has handled its minority issues very poorly. Although the minorities have been promised autonomy in the constitution, in practice they have been persecuted and hunted and their minimum rights denied. Cosmetic upliftment of minorities, especially the Uighurs and Tibetans failed to work.

China counter-terrorism cooperation with other countries can at best be said to be limited. In the case of Pakistan’s state sponsored terrorism against India the Chinese have maintained a distance. Similar is the case regarding Chechen terrorists. This has mainly to do with China’s close relations with Pakistan, and countries like India being bled by Pakistani terrorists is seen to be in China’s interest. Such policies will not work.

Challenges to Xi Jinping and his party and government establishments do not end here. A threat of larger social unrest is looming all around. Therefore, the budget for state security is bigger than the published defence budget. Xi Jinping would be well advised to work constructively with all neighbours to establish a stable China.

Nevertheless, President Xi Jinping is well on his way to place all powers in his own basket. But this is not the end of the story.

(The writer Mr. Bhaskar Roy, is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail grouchohart@yahoo.com)

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