China: PLA’s Restructured Central Military Commission (CMC) Takes Shape; By Brig. (Retd.) V. Mahalin
C3S Paper No. 0017/2016
The restructuring of China’s Central Military Commission(CMC) has taken off with Xi Jinping, the Chinese President and the Chairman of the CMC felicitating the heads of the fifteen ‘Functional Departments’ directly under the restructured CMC.China’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) held a special press conference at the Central Military Commission (CMC) on the evening of January 11, at which Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson for MND, answered reporters’ questions about the changes in the restructured CMC’s organisation.
In the earlier set up the CMClaid down policies for the armed forces and exercised supreme command. However the responsibility of executing the CMC’s diktatsrested with the four Departments namely the General Staff Department (GSD), General Political Department (GPD), General Logistics Department (GLD), and the General Armament Department (GAD).
The GSD and the GPD were the most powerful. With the PLA’s Army Headquarters having been subsumed as a part of GSD, the Army hada major say in the functioning and the decisions emanating from CMC thus acquiring considerable power and authority over the other services. The political leadership had accordingly intuited that the PLA and in particular PLA Army (PLAA) was developing into a power center and that it had to be checked to enable the China’s ruling Communist Party to assert full control over the military. The political leadership viewed the PLA’s weight within the CMC as a “structural and policy barrier” and a stumbling block towards reforms. The organisation of the CMC prior to restructuring and the new version unfolded on January 11, 2016 is shown in the charts.
The restructured organisation of the CMC consists of the CMC General Office followed by four of the diluted erstwhile CMC’s GSD, GPD, GLD and GAD departments, two new departments,three commissions and five offices. The CMC General Office precedes all the other components in the order of the fifteen ‘Functional Departments’ listed, suggesting that the Chairman of the CMC may control the organisation through this office. It would therefore be logical to assume that this office will be headed by a senior ranking officer. Appointment of a senior ranking officer close to Xi as the head of this office should not surprise anyone as one of the main aims of the entire exercise appears to be to tame the military and establish the supremacy of Xi Jinping as the undisputable leader of China.
In the new set up the CMC sees itself as the connecting link and playing a coordinating role amongst various services of the PLA. Its aim appears to be to allow the CMC to formulate various policies and leave the implementation of the laid down policies to various services rather than getting involved in direct command of forces. The CMC is expected to take control of the overall command and administration of the PLA. The Battle Zones Commands will be responsible for managing their respective commands and will concentrate on their operational preparedness The Logistic Services have been tasked to manage their respective services.
The Commissions appear different from other departments and offices forming part of the CMC. The spokesperson for MND while speaking about CMC Discipline Inspection Commission had talked of “commission’s dual leadership system”. Though it is not clear as to how the dual leadership function will work in the case of military, the similarity in the designation of the CMC’s Commissions to CPC’s organisations such as ‘Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection (CCDI) the highest internal-control institution of the Communist Part of China (CPC) and Central Politics and Law Commission inconspicuous.
It may be recalled that the 3rd Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee in 2013 reformed the CCDI’s structure, with every Commission for Discipline and Inspection (CDI) within the country being made directly accountable to the CCDI. Similarly, Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China, is an organization under the party’s Central Committee responsible for political and legal affairs. In practice the organization oversees all legal enforcement authorities, including the police force, making it a very powerful organ.The Commission is headed by a secretary who is usually a Central Politburo member. The question is will the CMC Discipline Inspection Commission and the CMC Politics and Law Commission come under the national CCDI and the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China? Is this a step towards introducing civil control over the military?
Strategic Planning and Military Operations
The absence of the word “Strategic Planning” from the role of the ‘CMC Joint Staff Department’ elucidated by the Spokesperson of the MND is significant indicating that Strategic Planning has been kept out of the purview of the CMC Joint Staff Department, the diluted successor of the erstwhile GSD. Accordingly a ‘Strategic Planning office’ has been created. The role of the CMC Joint Staff Department it appears is limited to undertaking combat planning and formulating the overall military operations related policies for the PLA.
The CMC’s Logistic Support Department will be responsible for planning the overall logistic support for the entire PLA. The system has in the past been restructured to some extent to meet the requirements of ‘Integrated Joint Operations’ and accordingly caters for decentralisation of logistic support units and elements to meet specific operational contingencies.
Discipline and Control of Military
As a part of Xi’s drive to eradicate corruption and maintain control and discipline over the military, three independent commissions to enforce discipline in various domains with equal status as that of the other departments of the CMC have been created. This is yet another move to bring various departments of the CMC at par with the operational department of the military within the CMC thus diminishing the importance of the General Staff which it had enjoyed all along. These departments can be used by the political establishment as a tool to control the military as and when required.
The GPD has been denuded of the Military Discipline and Inspection arm which has been upgraded as the CMC Discipline and Inspection Commission, one amongst the fifteen Functional Departments with equal status. Earlier, the task of checking corruption was delegated to GPD and the Commission for the purpose was placed as a part of its establishment. This organisation is expected to send teams to various CMC Departments and Battle Zone Commands for discipline inspection and supervision. The CMC Politics and Law Commission has been newly constituted to identify details of the Political Work that needs to be done and be the CMC’s arm to prevent, investigate and deal with criminal activities to maintain discipline within the PLA. This set up could well become the watch dog over various establishments of the PLA. The CMC Audit Office has been created as an independent organisation with authority to send out audit teams to military units to improve accounting system and bring probity and accountability within the military units.
Science and Technology
CMC Science and Technology Commission has been created out of the erstwhile ‘The Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (CSTIND)’ which was a part of GAD, thus curtailing the reach and power of GAD. The Commission has been given an independent status and an equal position as that of the other departments of the CMC
Status and Powers of CMC Departments
It may be recalled that on December, 31, 2015 President Xi Jinping inaugurated the General Command for the PLA Army (PLA Army Headquarters), PLA Rocket Force and PLA Strategic Support Force, the PLA Rocket Force replacing the Second Artillery. The Headquarters of the PLA Army has been detached from the CMC’s GSD and a broad based CMC Joint Staff Department with representation from various services has been created in place of earlier army centric GSD. Thus the power center created by the PLA Army has beensplit and rendered defunct. If all the fifteenheads of the ‘Functional Departments’ of the CMC and the heads of forces including the newly formed onesbecome the members of the CPC, the total members of the CMC will increase from the present 10 to 23 apart from the Chairman. Or would the fifteen ‘Functional Departments’ be represented by the head of the CMC General Office is to be seen. Such a move could be a step towards keeping a part of the military out of the decision making loop besides weakening the authority and importance of the constituents of the CMC.
Of late the PLA’s visibility and its influence and pressures on China’s foreign policy has been quiet apparent. The Chinese incursions in India’s Northern borders during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in 2014 were suspected to have been engineered by the PLA, independent of China’s political establishment. Even the growing tension in the South China Sea is being attributed to PLA’s assertiveness. As a result, even before Hu Jintao handed over power to the present incumbent there have been a number of voices internally within China’s political establishment calling for the need to reign in the military so as to ensure PLA’s loyalty to the Party over the State as required by the Party mandate.
Consequently, President Xi Jinping undertook a major anti-corruption drive targeting the military besides the others. Investigations were initiated against former CMC Vice Chairman and Politburo member General Guo Boxiong and he was dismissed from CPC. General Xu Caihou, yet another Vice Chairman of the CMC was expelled from the Party and removed from service. These measures were unprecedented and were part of the exercise to reign in the PLA. Guo, it may be mentioned practically controlled the PLA for 13 years during the tenure of Jiang Zemin, the former President and Chairman of the CMC. On July, 31, 2015, one day after Guo was expelled from the Party and handed over to be court-martialed ten military officers considered loyal to President Xi were promoted to the rank of General.
Now the CMC consisting of four powerful departments with four heads has been expanded to create fifteen departments with fifteen departmental heads. Some of the departments so created are elements taken out of erstwhile CMC departments, now forming independent entities within the reformed CMC at par with their mother departments. Increased number of departmental heads implies dilution of the status of the departmental heads and the linked military ranks. It is also possible that the restructured departments may not have the functional autonomy which it once enjoyed. The Army centric all powerful GSD has been dismantled and a joint services establishment with a diluted role and authority has been created which enables Beijing to exercise and thus consolidate party control over the military. This joint services configuration suits the professional requirement of directing a ‘modern integrated joint operations under conditions of Informationisation’ as per PLA’s adopted military doctrine.
Some of the structures created as part of the CMC are meant to maintain checks and balances within the PLA. Without doubt the heads of the various constituents of the CMC as well as the services are likely to be picked based on their closeness and loyalty to the President Xi Jinping.
The restructuring of China’s military regions (MR) into effective joint commands appears to be the next logical step in Xi’s plan to structure its military into a credible 21st-century fighting machine.
The raising economic concerns apart, Xi seems to have succeeded in strengthening his position in the light of military’s assertiveness. The economic meltdown is yet another challenge which he will have to manage to be able to reign supreme in the days ahead.
(The writer is a Retired Brigadier and security affairs analyst.)