Category Archives: PLA

“PLA Influence Over Chinese Politics: Fact of Fiction?”

Trefor Moss at The Diplomat has a response to the piece that ran a few days ago claiming that the PLA is pushing for more power in China:

The take-home message of the Times story is therefore that PLA leaders are indebted, and also subordinate, to top Party figures like Hu – not that they’re agitating for greater political clout. The odd drunken rant aside, these men know their place.

The idea of the PLA getting out of control, or at least of asserting greater influence over foreign policy, is of course an attractive one for the lazy headline-writer. It’s news, unlike the long and deliberate arc of incremental military modernization, which is the real story of what’s happening with the PLA.

There is some fire behind all the media smoke. It’s true that PLA generals are quoted in the Chinese press with increasing regularity, and that China’s nationalistic newspapers provide a ready platform for hawks both inside and outside the military. One such purveyor of interesting views, Major General Luo Yuan, has become a minor celebrity thanks to his forthright commentary on territorial disputes: he recently spoke out in favour of “decisive action” against the Philippines, for example.

But it’s important to remember that Luo is a small fish in a big Chinese power-pond. The government, while tolerating (or perhaps encouraging) his confrontational stance, did of course completely ignore his advice. Instead, Beijing took a much more measured position, sending civilian law enforcement ships rather than the PLA Navy to handle its spat with Manila. Hence the military that is supposedly trying to grab influence over foreign policy was uninvolved in the biggest foreign-policy issue the country has faced this year – and that was probably just how most senior PLA commanders would have wanted it.

There’s no reason for the PLA to crave political power, so long as the government continues to ramp up military spending – as it has done reliably for over two decades.

I’ll be interested to see if this response generates another response in turn.

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“Party Bristles at Military’s Push for More Sway in China”

Apparently when you derive your legitimacy from the barrel of a gun, your gunmen may eventually start to wonder why they aren’t getting a bigger slice of the pie (via Edward Wong at NYT):

During a holiday banquet for China’s military leadership early this year, a powerful general lashed out in a drunken rage against what he believed was a backhanded move to keep him from being promoted to the military’s top ruling body.

The general, Zhang Qinsheng, vented his fury in front of President Hu Jintao, according to four people with knowledge of the event. At the banquet, he even shoved a commanding general making toasts; Mr. Hu walked out in disgust.

The general’s tirade was one of a series of events this year that have fueled concerns among Communist Party leaders over the level of control they exercise over military officials, who are growing more outspoken and desire greater influence over policy and politics.

“Party authorities have come to realize that the military is encroaching on political affairs,” said one political scientist with high-level party ties. “Although the party controls the gun, the expression of viewpoints from within the military on political issues has aroused a high level of alarm.” He, like others who agreed to discuss internal party affairs, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.

[Conversations] with officers suggest that some may feel an affinity for the incoming Mr. Xi they do not share with Mr. Hu, a tea trader’s son who has struggled in Mr. Jiang’s shadow to win respect. Mr. Xi, 59, is the “princeling” son of a revered Communist guerrilla leader who grew up in Beijing with military families. He is stepping into the leadership role with closer military relationships than anyone since Deng Xiaoping.

“When those from the ‘red second generation’ move up, there will be a personal feeling, a traditional bond,” a senior officer said.

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“Rotting From Within”

People have been calling this piece ‘important,’ and given how much detail John Garnaut has provided, this might be the most in-depth look at the current level of corruption in the PLA we’ve seen recently:

“No country can defeat China,” Liu told about 600 officers in his department in unscripted comments to an enlarged party meeting on the afternoon of Dec. 29, according to sources who have verified notes of his speech. “Only our own corruption can destroy us and cause our armed forces to be defeated without fighting.” This searing indictment of the state of China’s armed forces, coming from an acting full three-star general inside the PLA, has no known modern precedent.

There is no way to independently verify Liu’s withering assessment of the extent of corruption in the PLA, but he is well-positioned to make it. His professional experience includes a decade in the government of the central Chinese province of Henan and a decade in the paramilitary, taking him beyond narrow lines of command and patronage. His logistics department is integrated with all other arms of the Chinese military and his status as the descendant of a high-ranking leader, or princeling, enables privileged informal networks across military ranks and the civilian side of the party-state.

The practice of buying promotions inside the military is now so widespread, Liu noted, that even outgoing President Hu Jintao, who also leads the military from his position atop the CMC, had vented his frustration. “When Chairman Hu severely criticised ‘buying and selling official posts,’ can we sit idle?”

PLA veterans told me they are organising “rights protection” movements to protest their inadequate pensions, which they contrast with the luxury lifestyles they observe among serving officers. Retired officers have told me that promotions have become so valuable that it has become routine to pay the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to even be considered for many senior positions.

The February address, the second and most detailed of Liu’s corruption speeches, suggests the problems run much deeper than anecdotal evidence suggests. “Certain individuals exchange public money, public goods, public office and public affairs for personal gain, flouting the law and party codes of conduct, even resorting to verbal abuse and threats, clandestine plots and set ups,” he said.

In that scandal, widely covered in official media, Yuanhua used military connections to evade a staggering $6.3 billion in taxes by smuggling everything from cigarettes and luxury cars to fully laden oil tankers. The case brought down hundreds of provincial and military officials, including the head of a major PLA intelligence division. It also enabled Jiang to consolidate his grip on the military.

The outside world caught another limited glimpse of military corruption in December 2005, when the deputy commander of the navy, Adm. Wang Shouye, was detained for unspecified “economic crimes.” Official reports said he was brought down by a mistress, while Hong Kong’s Asia Weekly said he kept five mistresses and stole almost 20 million dollars.

In late January, Liu followed up his tough talk by ripping out one allegedly cancerous node, the deputy director of his Logistics Department, Gu Junshan, after a protracted internal struggle. Gu was the first military official of such a high rank to be toppled since Admiral Wang in 2005. A source with direct knowledge of the case described General Gu extorting county officials with threats of violence and buying his way up through the PLA hierarchy. The source, whose allegations could not be independently confirmed, said that Gu, together with friends, relatives, and patrons in and beyond the military, profited immensely from a property development in Shanghai, distributed hundreds of PLA-built villas in Beijing as gifts to his friends and allies, and generally ran his construction and infrastructure division like a mafia fiefdom.

Chen, the son of one of China’s 10 great marshals and son-in-law of a legendary commander, Gen. Su Yu, runs a successful infrastructure investment firm, Standard International. He opted out of the government and military system after the Tiananmen massacres. He told me the 1989 bloodshed left a vacuum of purpose and integrity within the PLA, which money has rushed to fill. “The problem has really got out of hand in the last 20 years,” he said. “After the June 4 movement, when ‘opposing corruption’ was the protestors’ slogan, some of the officers no longer cared about anything. They just made money and broke all the rules.”

A second princeling who has recently retired from a ministerial-level position told me discipline and unity in the PLA has deteriorated in the past decade. He said an unprecedented leadership vacuum has opened up at the top of the military because President Hu never consolidated his grip, even after more than nine years at the helm of the Communist Party and seven years chairing the Central Military Commission.

Few analysts believe the PLA can seriously tackle its own corruption problems without decisive intervention from the civilian leadership. Whether Hu or his likely successor Xi will have the political capital to spend remains an open question.

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“Power Struggle in China”

More on Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai, this time from Gordon Chang. Chang’s perspective is well-known, but I don’t see anything wrong with his analysis:

On the 6th of this month, Wang entered the American consulate in Chengdu, the capital of neighboring Sichuan Province, seeking asylum. He spent a day there. Incredibly, his old boss, Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, essentially invaded Sichuan by sending hundreds of his armed security troops to surround the Chengdu consulate in an unsuccessful bid to apprehend Wang.

It’s no surprise that Bo wanted to grab hold of his onetime trusted assistant. Wang evidently was willing to turn over sensitive documents about Bo or his wife, and that looked like it would mean the end of his career. The charismatic Bo has not hidden his desire for a seat on the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of political power in China.

Why did Wang try to defect? The rumor mills in China are working overtime, but it’s a fact that Wang is famous for arresting about 6,000 triad gangsters, corrupt officials, and others at the behest of Bo. Wang’s tough law enforcement, along with Bo’s political maneuverings, threatened, among others, senior Beijing leaders. Some are even whispering that Hu Jintao, China’s current top leader, engineered the extraordinary events of last week. If that is true, then Xi Jinping, supposedly China’s next supremo, may be vulnerable, as he is believed to be more closely aligned to Bo than to Hu.

In fact, the Wang incident indicates that factionalism, evident in recent years, is worse than most observers thought. As the Communist Party tries to downplay ideology, its members are drifting into coalitions and finding something new to fight about. Bo is member of the “Princelings,” a group comprising offspring of party leaders, and Hu Jintao a part of the Communist Youth League group. Xi is considered a member of the former grouping but has ties across several factions, including the Shanghai Gang. Last week’s unexpected events, when factional infighting became visible in public, indicate that these groups have yet to agree on the Fifth Generation leadership lineup.

After Wang Lijun was whisked away to Beijing, it appeared to most observers that Bo’s career would end soon. Yet he is refusing to give up and is reportedly seeking the help of certain generals. This may be a winning tactic. After all, the military looks like it has become the most influential bloc in the Communist Party, in part because it has remained relatively cohesive while civilian leaders have fought among themselves.

The rise of the military—really, the partial remilitariziation of politics and policy—and factional splintering is resulting in a change in the nature of the regime. As this process of change continues, we can only wonder what happens next.

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“Relax: China’s First Aircraft Carrier is a Piece of Junk”

I’m frequently astonished by how crazy foreign media outlets get when they talk about the Chinese military buildup.  To be sure, the PLA is enhancing its capabilities in a number of ways.  But the kind of over the top hysteria you catch from media outlets would give you a pretty warped picture of what’s going on here.  For example, fears about China threatening America’s naval dominance come from the purchase of…  one aircraft carrier.  One.  The only one China has.  And if you listen to Wired, it doesn’t even sound that scary as aircraft carriers go:

Just how worried should the world be?

The answer depends on who you ask. To China’s closest neighbors, the prospect of a carrier speeding heavily-armed Chinese jet fighters across the world’s oceans is an alarming one. But the U.S. Navy, the world’s leading carrier power and arguably the Chinese navy’s biggest rival, seems oddly unaffected.

There are good reasons for the Pentagon’s calm. For starters, Shi Lang, pictured above, could be strictly a training carrier, meant to pave the way for bigger, more capable carriers years or decades in the future.

But even if she is meant for combat, there’s probably little reason to fear Shi Lang. A close study of the 990-foot-long vessel — plus the warships and airplanes she’ll sail with — reveals a modestly-sized carrier lacking many of the elements that make U.S. flattops so powerful.

When Shi Lang finally gets underway in coming months, she will boost the ability of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to patrol airspace over contested sea zones, provided they’re not too far from the Chinese mainland. And more to the point, she’ll look good doing it. “I think the change in perception by the region will be significant,” Adm. Robert Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific forces, told the Senate in April.

Willard said he is “not concerned” about the ship’s military impact.

There’s certainly significance to the PLA buildup, but let’s not hyperventilate too much about one modest aircraft carrier, alright?  This is pretty far down the list of reasons to be concerned about China.

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