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IMPACT OF LEADERSHIP CHANGES IN CHINA ON SECURITY AND DEFENCE FIELDS IN THE COUNTRY

The disturbed domestic security environment provided the backdrop to China’s 18th Party Congress held from November 8-14, 2013. It included the widespread popular dissatisfaction caused by the publicised high incidence of corruption, growing income inequality, worker lay-offs, rising prices etc. This has persisted over the past couple of years. The pervasiveness of this dissatisfaction, in fact, prompted China’s largest and Government think-tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), to last year warn that the people are losing confidence in the government and that they view cadres as being in league with real estate businessmen. This popular dissatisfaction manifested itself in a spate of mass protests that totalled 180,000 in 2011 and, according to confidential estimates, could increase at between 8-12 per cent annually.

The serious concern this is causing to the Chinese leadership was reflected in the higher budgetary allocations for two successive years for domestic security. Significantly, the budgets for domestic security for the last two years (US$ 111 billion in 2012 for domestic security and US$106.4 billion for national defence) have been higher than the national defence budgets for the first time ever! The budgets for 2013 will be announced at the National People’s Congress (NPC) session scheduled to be held in early March 2013. Linked to this popular dissatisfaction is another worrying feature for China’s leadership and this is the apparently ebbing confidence of Chinese in their country and government. Contents of a recent report of the Party’s anti-corruption watchdog body, the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC) now headed by Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) member Wang Qishan, were recently commented upon by the independent mainland Chinese weekly ‘Economic Observer’. It claimed that US$ 1 trillion, equivalent to 40 per cent of Britain’s annual gross domestic product, had been smuggled out of China illegally in 2012. While this figure is disputed by analysts, they nonetheless describe the flow of money as dramatic. Beijing University Professor Li Chengyan, suggested that about 10,000 officials had absconded from China with as much as US$100 billion. The CDIC disclosed that 1,100 government officials had fled China during last year’s national holidays in October and that 714 had been successful in getting completely away.

Separately, China’s International Emigration Report (2012), as publicised by China’s official newsagency Xinhua in January 2013, revealed that in China 27% of business owners with personal assets of more than 1 billion yuan (US$160 million) have emigrated while 47% are considering emigration. It added that in the past three years at least 17 billion yuan (US$ 2.7 billion) of capital has flown abroad.

The political disruption caused by the now ousted Politburo member of impeccable ‘Red lineage’, Bo Xilai, is another major event that has impacted on the CCP and personnel selection at its highest echelons. The Bo Xilai incident shook and stunned the CCP and prompted its leadership to scrutinise the political reliability and loyalty of cadres and take steps to ensure that they operate within the strict bounds of Party discipline. The manner in which Wang Lijun, Chief of the Public Security Bureau of the centrally-administered Chongqing Municipality, easily gained access to the US Consulate in Chengdu in his failed bid to defect to the US, rang alarm bells in Beijing especially as it showed that a member of the Party’s nomenklatura of the rank of a central Vice Minister was susceptible to the blandishments of a foreign intelligence organisation. The inference that he was in regular touch with US ‘diplomats’ is unmistakable.

The Party’s reaction to these developments was clearly reflected in the selection of Delegates to the 18th Party Congress and selection of members to the 18th Central Committee (CC), 25-member Politburo (PB) and the reduced 7-member Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC). The declared emphasis was on the loyalty and political reliability of cadres. There is not one member of China’s ethnic minority nationalities in the PB or PBSC. With specific reference to the Tibetans, they appear to have been particularly affected with not a single Tibetan among the PLA’s 251 Delegates to the 18th Congress and neither a single representative among the PLA’s contingent of officials included in the 18th Central Committee. Only one Tibetan figured among full members of the 18th CC.

Special attention was focused on the country’s public security apparatus. In the wake of central investigations revealing that Bo Xilai had successfully penetrated the public security apparatus and acquired influence, approximately 3000 public security cadres were summoned to Beijing for ‘political re-education’ in the immediate aftermath of the Bo Xilai incident. Again prior to convening of the 18th Party Congress, 1,400 county-level public security chiefs were imparted ‘special’ training. The susceptibility of the country’s public security apparatus to penetration was highlighted also in the case involving the escape to the US Embassy in Beijing of the blind dissident activist Chen Guangchen. Public security personnel deployed to guard the blind dissident activist’s residence were officially acknowledged as complicit in his escape.

The importance attached to domestic security has heightened in recent years as Beijing has assessed that the international environment surrounding China is becoming adverse. The thinking of senior echelon Chinese Communist Party cadres is reflected in an article authored last year by Zeng Shengquan, Director of Sichuan’s Provincial Public Security Department. He wrote in Gong’an Yanjiu that: ‘hostile foreign and domestic forces manipulate, incite speculation about, and directly provoke contradictions within our people in increasingly prominent ways. Their methods fall into three main categories:

Taking advantage of our instabilities to stir up trouble. The economic transition and social transformation that have accompanied our country’s reform and development have brought about a profound adjustment of the pattern of interests and, objectively speaking, have provided the conditions for hostile elements to meddle. They seize on some controversial and sensitive domestic issue, “rights protection” incident, or judicial case and openly meddle, wantonly speculate, and attempt to instigate the ignorant against the party and the state, damaging our excellent situation of prosperity and stability. This approach is quite insidious and concealed, and public security organs must be highly vigilant.

Meddling in our mass incidents to intensify contradictions. This specific stage of our country’s economic and social development exhibits a wide range of social contradictions and major disputes; if these are improperly handled, they can easily lead to mass incidents. Hostile forces do everything in their power to meddle in our country’s internal mass incidents in a vain attempt to exacerbate the situation, scale, destruction, and impact; the incidents in Guizhou’s Weng’an County and Yunnan’s Menglian County are typical examples. This approach is bound to aggravate the antagonism of these contradictions and the seriousness of the resulting consequences. Public security organs must guard against this.

Seeking every opportunity to directly create chaos. An increasingly powerful China creates great uneasiness for the hostile forces both inside and outside its borders. They directly rouse their domestic forces into action and take advantage of the portion of the masses that do not know the truth; increasingly common incidents of vandalism, arson, and other destructive activities’.

Complicating these concerns was the apparent sympathy of PBSC member and the country’s Security Czar, Zhou Yongkang, for Bo Xilai. There additionally appeared to have been some laxity in supervision over the extent of Zhou Yongkang’s powers. The visible fall-out of this has been the downgrading of the position of Chairman of the Party’s apex security apparatus — the Central Politics and Law Commission — from that of a PBSC member to a PB member. With the retirement of Zhou Yongkang at the 18th Party Congress, the Minister of Public Security, Meng Jianzhu was elevated to the PB and appointed Chairman of the Central Politics and Law Commission. Meng Jianzhu had, incidentally, worked in close coordination with Liu Yunshan, then Director of the Party’s Propaganda Department and now a PBSC member. The downgrading of the position of Chairman of the Central Politics and Law Commission to that of a PB member implies that Meng Jianzhu will henceforth report directly to CCP CC General Secretary Xi Jinping, who will thus exercise tighter control over the security and intelligence apparatus.

The appointment earlier in February of former Guangxi Communist Party Secretary, 1954-born Guo Shengkun as Minister of Public Security, also hints at further dilution of the authority of the Minister of Public Security and possible enhancement of the Party Chief’s authority and control over the security apparatus. Meanwhile, there are credible reports that as part of a government restructuring the Ministry of State Security is being relegated to the Departments directly under the State Council and is likely to be renamed the National Security Bureau. The proposal for restructuring and reduction of over 27 government departments down to 18 is likely to be considered at the NPC session this March.

While Guo Shengkun would have had experience of supervising public security work in the Guangxi-Zhuang Automonous Region, he lacks direct experience of security work and knowledge of law. Guo Shengkun, a Han and native of Jiangxi province, joined the CCP in 1974. He is a graduate from the Jiangxi Institute of Metallurgy, a Professor of Engineering and a PhD in Management. His background has been in State owned Enterprises (SoEs) and, during an interview in 2010, he described himself as a politician with a background in business. He also said that ‘the government should seek to maximise the interests of the public, which are based on the principles of equity and justice.’ The latter sentiment could position him to guide the proposal for abolition of the 350 ‘reform-through-labour’ camps, which have been functional in China since 1957, through the NPC this March. Opinion about his appointment is divided though. Professor Zhu Lijia, of the Chinese Academy of Governance in Beijing, said Guo’s previous role as Guangxi’s party chief would also have given him some familiarity with such matters, while Professor Hu Xingdou , a Beijing-based commentator, said a public security minister should have the legal knowledge to ensure the security system was run properly, and he was not sure that Guo had it.

The new leadership installed at the 18th Party Congress will continue the policies of its predecessor with increased emphasis on security and propaganda.

PLA

There is greater continuity in leadership and doctrine of the PLA, but the new Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), Xi Jinping, has already indicated that political reliability will be an area of increased emphasis.

Appointments to key military posts were announced on October 25 and later on November 6, in both cases before even commencement of the 18th Party Congress on November 8 in Beijing, thus signalling that competing interest groups in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s highest echelons had reached agreement on major personnel issues with regard to the PLA. It additionally conveyed that the matter relating to ousted Politburo member and ‘princeling’, Bo Xilai, had basically been settled. Xi Jinping’s emphasis on the political reliability of PLA officers, however, reveals that suspicions continue to linger in the aftermath of the Bo Xilai episode. Bo Xilai has since been stripped of Party membership and currently awaits trial with reports stating that his mother-in-law, Fan Chengxiu, has hired a couple of lawyers to fight his case.

The announcements implied too, that ongoing investigations of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) personnel had been completed. Earlier this August while releasing the list of 251 PLA Delegates to the 18th Party Congress, it was specifically stated that all Delegates had a blemish-free political record. This assertion hinted that while those closely associated with Bo Xilai, like Generals Liu Yuan and Zhang Haiyang, might not be promoted they would probably neither be punished. The failure to promote General Liu Yuan, who is the son of former Chinese President Liu Shaoqi and is close to Xi Jinping, is significant and indicates that lineage has failed to provide immunity. Interestingly, although a PLA Delegate to the Party Congress, General Liu Yuan failed to attend the opening ceremony of the 18th Party Congress in Beijing on November 8, though he appeared later. Generals Liu Yuan and Zhang Haiyang are both, incidentally, members of the 18th CC.

The unusually early announcement of key appointments were also clear indication of Hu Jintao being firmly in charge of the PLA and signalled that his influence will continue. It reinforces the assessment that Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping had worked in close coordination over the past few years.

In addition to the entire top echelon of the PLA, appointments to the crucial Military Commission’s Secretariat, which continues to be an entirely civilian body, were additionally effected. Xi Jinping would have been consulted and concurred in all these appointments, especially as all but two of the newly appointed senior officers will serve co-terminus with him. Doubts about how close the coordination was between Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping would have been removed when, in December 2012, Xi Jinping appointed Chen Shiju as Head of the CMC General Office. Chen Shiju, a civilian, was the Head of Hu Jintao’s office. Hu Jintao’s decision to relinquish the post of Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) should be viewed in this backdrop, as also in the context of reports emanating from Beijing at least since July 2012, that he had indicated his preference to step down from all posts.

According to an unusual disclosure on November 18, 2012, by the authoritative ‘Global Times’, a subsidiary of the official Party mouthpiece ‘People’s Daily’, the hand over of the post of Chairman of the Military Commission was completed only on November 15, at an enlarged meeting of Central Military Commission. The ‘Global Times’ article, again unprecedentedly, heaped fulsome praise on Hu Jintao for voluntarily stepping down and setting a “healthy”, new precedent. In confirmation of earlier indications that Hu Jintao and his designated successor were working closely together, China’s new supremo, Xi Jinping, declared: “Chairman Hu’s important decision fully embodies his profound thinking of the overall development of the Party, country and military. The decision also embodies his exemplary conduct and nobility of character. “ He pointedly added that Hu Jintao “has pushed China’s military development one giant step forward based on achievements made under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong, Chairman Deng Xiaoping and Chairman Jiang Zemin.” Hu Jintao, in turn, asserted that Xi Jinping was qualified and ready to lead the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Xi Jinping, at the same meeting, took visible charge and laid down his criteria—visible also in the new appointments—for the PLA. He effectively set at rest the debate about “more Red than Expert” by declaring that: “The military must promote and appoint cadres based on their political performance and guarantee that ‘guns’ are always controlled by reliable people with loyalty to the Party.” He ordered the military to ‘always put the country’s sovereignty and security first, comprehensively improve the military’s deterrent power and capability of real combat to protect China’s sovereignty, security and development interests at an information-based age’. Allegations of rampant corruption in the PLA found resonance when Xi Jinping pledged to enhance the anti-corruption effort within the armed forces and called on senior military officers to take the lead in obeying rules and regulations for self-discipline.

The main features of China’s new Military leadership are clearly the: professional background of all the Members and both Vice Chairmen of the Military Commission; the increased number of ‘princelings’, or members of the ‘Red Nobility’ led by the Chairman of the Military Commission Xi Jinping; and the implicit emphasis on Integrated Joint Operations (IJO), especially an enhanced operational role for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force (PLAAF).

Additionally, the PLAAF for the first time ever has two representatives in the Military Commission—CMC Vice Chairman Xu Qiliang and PLAAF Commander and concurrent Military Commission Member General Ma Xiaotian. The PLA’s representation in the CCP Central Committee (CC)’s Politburo (PB) remains unchanged at 2, with the presence of General Xu Qiliang and General Fan Changlong. The presence of Xu Qiliang, however, ensures an additional voice for the PLAAF in the Party’s second highest body. This can be expected to ensure a more prominent role for the PLAAF, including in IJOs, and enhanced funding. All other members of the CMC are members of the 18th CC.

Almost as if on cue, the official English-language China Daily reported on November 15, 2012, that China has a long-term plan until 2030 to develop advanced aviation engines. US$1.6 billion has been earmarked for the first phase to fund research and development of engines till 2015. An AVICS official said “During the first phase, which will conclude by the end of 2015 if everything goes well, we will strive to ensure our air force’s aircraft be equipped with proper engines and to lift our development capability to that of the developed countries’ level in the 1980s”. In the second phase China will substantially narrow the technological gap between it and the developed countries and that in the “near future all of the PLA air force’s third-generation aircraft use domestically developed engines.” “Our ultimate goal is to guarantee that China can develop its own aviation industry without being disrupted or contained by anyone else.”

The PLA has in recent years been trying to upgrade its doctrine, tactics and armaments as also indigenous research and development of weaponry. Emphasis has been given to Integrated Joint Operations (IJO) and transportation of battle-ready armed and fully equipped troops across long distances. There has been repeated mention of the need to prepare for a short ‘local war’ under ‘conditions of informatisation’ using overwhelming firepower. This was reiterated in Hu Jintao’s Work Report to the 18th Party Congress. Similarly, the South China Sea will remain an area of active concern where China will continue to establish its dominance. This too found mention in Hu Jintao’s Work Report when he, for the first time in a Work Report, emphasized that China would be a maritime power. The recent appointments reveal that China’s new military leadership will focus on both these crucial areas.

The appointment as Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the former Commander of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), Xu Qiliang, was announced on November 6, 2012. A professional aviator and advocate of robust modernization of the PLAAF, Xu Qiliang was born in March 1950. With his appointment the PLAAF now for the first time ever has two representatives in China’s highest military body. Xu Qiliang is a ‘princeling’ and is loyal to Hu Jintao.

The other new Vice Chairman of the CMC is General Fan Changlong, till now Commander of the Jinan Military Region (MR). He is the oldest PLA officer to be appointed to the Military Commission and should normally be tipped to retire at the next Congress in 2017.

General Fang Fenghui, who was born in 1951, has been appointed Director of the PLA’s General Staff Department (GSD), a post loosely equated with that of Army Chief. A graduate of China’s elite National Defense University (NDU), he is reputed to be a technocrat with command experience including in the digitalized battlefield. More importantly, when Fang Fenghui was appointed Military Region Commander in 2007, he was the youngest officer in the PLA to hold that rank. In a sign of the trust that Hu Jintao reposed in him, Fang Fenghui was the beneficiary of a double promotion when he was appointed Commander of the sensitive Beijing Military Region.

General Fang Fenghui exemplifies the new generation of professionally savvy officers. Apart from his command-and-control skills, he is a much-published author on military strategy, particularly in the areas of computer-aided war games and the synchronization of different branches of the military forces. One of his favourite mottos is that “radically changing times demand innovation in strategic theories.” Hu Jintao was said to be very impressed with Fang Fenghui’s orchestration of the 2009 military parade in Beijing, which marked the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s founding. Last year, Fang Fenghui won praise when he supervised complicated large-scale maneuvers involving more than 30,000 soldiers from the Beijing, Lanzhou and Chengdu MRs.

The appointment of General Zhang Youxia, born in July 1950, as Director of the General Armaments Department (GAD), is another that points to an officer’s professional background being a factor in his selection for higher office. Long a proponent of modernization of the PLA’s weaponry, Zhang Youxia has now been empowered to implement suitable policies. In 2009, General Zhang Youxia was quoted in the Party newspaper ‘People’s Daily’ as saying: “The fires of war are burning throughout the world. In this area the gap between the Chinese military and foreign militaries is growing day by day. This is a real problem.” As GAD Director, General Zhang Youxia will now supervise overseas procurement and armaments research.

He is also the only officer in the Central Military Commission with combat experience. He participated in the Laoshan battles of the 1979 Sino-Vietnam border war as Commander of the 119 Regt, 40th Division, when he was wounded. General Zhang Youxia is the son of General Zhang Zongxun, regarded as one of the ‘Ten Anti-Japan Generals’ of the CCP and a ‘princeling’. He is loyal to Hu Jintao, but also close to Xi Jinping.

Born in 1947, General Zhao Keshi, the new Director of the General Logistics Department (GLD), owes his promotion to Hu Jintao. The oldest among the Generals appointed to the top posts recently, General Zhao Keshi was also only a Chief of Staff when he was picked by Hu Jintao in 2007, and appointed Commander of the Nanjing Military Region, thereby benefiting from a double promotion. Born in 1951, General Zhang Yang, the new Director of the powerful General Political Department (GPD) was apparently appointed at Hu Jintao’s behest. He was earlier Political Commissar of the Guangzhou Military Region. Zhang Yang was an old “partner” of Fang Fenghui in the Guangzhou Military Region. When Fang Fenghui served as the Chief of Staff in Guangzhou from 2003-2007, Zhang Yang was Director of the Military Region’s Political Affairs Department from 2004-2007. His appointment as Director of the powerful GPD increases General Fang Fenghui’s authority in the PLA and is in line with the criteria spelt out recently by Xi

Xi Jinping for evaluating PLA officers.

Born into a military family in August 1949, General Ma Xiaotian, the new PLAAF Commander, joined the PLA in 1965 and the CCP in 1969. Reputedly a flamboyant and proficient fighter pilot, Ma Xiaotian did very well in his course at the NDU. He has been a member of the 16th and 17th CCs. Known to be an outspoken officer with hawkish views on China’s territorial disputes in the East and South China seas, he has handled the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs portfolios of the PLA as Deputy Chief of PLA General Staff for 5 years. He has experience of Tibet while in the Lanzhou MR. He succeeded Xu Qiliang as the PLA’s Deputy Chief of General Staff in 2007 when Xu Qiliang was made Commander of the PLAAF and has now again inherited Xu Qiliang’s post.

In May 2012, when China and the Philippines were locked in a stand-off over the South China Sea’s Scarborough Shoal, Ma Xiaotian told the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV “the South China Sea issue is none of the United States’ business; it’s just [territorial] disputes between China and its neighbouring countries”. He added that “the PLA is able to protect China’s maritime territories”, but “at the moment China is not preparing to resort to military means – that would be the very last option”.

At the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in 2010, Ma Xiaotian told US Pacific Commander, Admiral Robert Willard, that China would not accept any surveillance by US ships and planes in the South and East China seas, and that Washington’s arms sales to Taiwan were “creating obstacles” for Sino-US military-to-military exchanges. He reiterated concerns about cold-war-era alliances and called for more equal, trusting relationships. Most predictable was the direct elevation of 1954-born General Wei Fenghe as Commander of the Second Artillery, or China’s strategic missile force. Wei Fenghe served as chief of staff of the Second Artillery from 2006-10 and was involved in the intercontinental ballistic missile testing in 1989. He is a professional soldier and has spent his entire career with the Second Artillery. He joined the PLA and CCP in 1970 and was an alternate member of the 17th CC.

Admiral Wu Shengli, PLA Navy (PLAN) Commander born in August 1945, lost out in the latest round of promotions, but has been retained as PLAN Commander. Wu Shengli is the son of Wu Xian, a former Vice Governor of Zhejiang Province, and a ‘princeling’. Wu Shengli finally did not make the cut despite his proximity to Hu Jintao and there is a possibility a new PLAN Commander could be appointed by 2014.

Finally, General Chang Wanquan continues to be officially listed as a Member of the Military Commission indicating that he will probably be China’s new Defence Minister.

The South China Sea will be an area of active interest for China’s new leadership and its military. This is clear from the pronouncements of at least two of the recently appointed top officials. General Zhang Youxia, in the initial stages itself adopted a tough line against the Philippines in the dispute over Scarborough Reef. Similarly, the new PLA Air Force (PLAAF) Commander General Ma Xiaotian, has made unequivocal pronouncements on the subject. Interestingly both, Zhang Youxia and Ma Xiaotian, are ‘princelings’. Xi Jinping and Xu Qiliang are the other two ‘princelings’ in the CMC. While reports suggest that Xi Jinping had not been attending meetings of the newly constituted “Office to Respond to the Diaoyu Crisis” since his appointment as CCP CC General Secretary, there is credible reporting to indicate that steps being taken now to counter Japan had been enumerated by this Office earlier.

Military modernization will remain fast-paced with special attention to development of high-tech indigenous Defence R&D, ‘informatisation’, the PLAAF, PLAN and Second Artillery. Xi Jinping has paid constant attention to the PLA since taking over as Chairman of the CMC, During his southern tour, for example, he included visits to PLA bases including the 124th division of the 42nd Army in Luofushan, Huizhou and the PLA Navy’s South China Sea fleet, where he boarded the destroyer ‘Haikou’. In Zhuhai, he visited the China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co., which manufactures military and civil aircraft. At all these places he made speeches expressing pronounced nationalist sentiments.

Xi Jinping’s repeated references to the humiliations heaped on the Chinese by foreigners, the ‘China Dream’ and assertions that there will be no infringement of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, all make apparent that there will be less flexibility and a reluctance to agree to concessions on issues of sovereignty or territorial disputes. Pressure on Japan and India could increase.

(The Writer, Mr. J.Ranade, is a Member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. This formed the basis of his presentation at the C3S National Seminar on “Leadership Changes in China : Domestic and External Impact”, held in Chennai on 2 March, 2013. Email: jayvins1@gmail.com)

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