Much has been written about the growing influence of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) generals on China’s foreign policy. Little has been said about military entrepreneurs and other non-combatant PLA personnel moving into China’s domestic governance. Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, an unprecedented number of senior cadres from the country’s labyrinthine jungong hangtian (military-industrial and space-technology) complex are being inducted to high-level Party-government organs or transferred to regional administrations. Given the perception that officials with military backgrounds tend to be more conservative and unquestionably loyal to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership, the partial militarization of the civilian Party-state apparatus will have far-reaching implications for the prospects of political and economic reforms, among others.
Uptick Under Xi Jinping
Until Xi Jinping became Party General Secretary and Chairman of the Central Military Commission at the 18th Party Congress two years ago, China’s ten major military and space-related yangqi (centrally controlled conglomerates) assumed a relatively low profile.  These multi-billion yuan state-owned enterprises (SOE)—which are supervised by the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), a unit under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT)—were thrust into the limelight at the Congress, when an unprecedented number of jungong hangtian entrepreneurs and researchers were made members of the policy-setting CCP Central Committee. Four CEOs from the military-space establishment were admitted to the Central Committee as full members. They were Lin Zuoming (born 1957) of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC); Xu Dazhe (1956) of the China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp (CASIC); Ma Qingrui (1959) of the China Aerospace Science & Tech Corp (CASC); and Zhang Guoqing (1964) of the China North Industries Group Corp (Norinco). By contrast, only two top managers from non-military yangqi—Jiang Jiemin, then president of China National Petroleum Corp, and Xiao Gang, then Bank of China president—made it to the elite body (CEweekly.cn, November 6, 2012; People’s Daily, November 5, 2012).
Moreover, a number of jungong hangtian officials from the Sixth-Generation corps of cadres (officials born in the 1960s who are positioned to move up the Party hierarchy at the 20th Party Congress in 2022) were elevated to the Central Committee as alternate, or second-tier, members at the 18th Party Congress. They included Cao Shumin (born 1969), Director of the MIIT Research Institute; Jin Donghan (1961), Chief Engineer at the China Shipbuilding Industry Corp (CSIC); Jin Zhuanglong (1964), General Manager of the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd. (COMAC); Liu Shiquan (1963), CASIC Vice-President; Ma Weiming (1960), Professor and Chief Engineer of the PLA Naval University of Engineering; Qian Zhimin (1960), General Manager of the China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC); Ren Hongbin, President of the China National Machinery Industry Corp (Sinomach); Wu Mengqing (1965), a top researcher at the China Electronics Technology Group Corp (CETC); and Yang Xuejun (1963), President of the National University of Defense Technology (360doc.com, November 26, 2012; Xinhua, November 14, 2012).
It was during the Hu Jintao–Wen Jiabao administration (2002–2012) that jungong hangtian talents, in addition to CEOs of automobile and energy companies, began to take up important posts in the civilian Party-state hierarchy. For example, Hao Peng (born 1960), a senior researcher and manager at AVIC, was appointed Vice-Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2003. Hao was promoted to be the Governor of Qinghai province last year. Also in 2003, Xu Fushun (1958), a former assistant general manager at CNNC, was appointed Vice-Governor of Qinghai. Xu was named Vice-Chairman of the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) late last year. Renowned rocket scientist Zhang Qingwei (1960), a former CASC General Manager and President of COMAC, was appointed Deputy Party Secretary and acting Governor of Hebei province in 2011. In early 2012, deputy general manager of CASC Yuan Jiajun (1962) was named a member of the Standing Committee of the Ningxia provincial Party Committee; Yuan was recently promoted Executive Vice-Governor of Zhejiang province (Xinhua, August 13; Ta Kung Pao [Hong Kong], July 16, 2013).
Yet it was after the 18th Party Congress that the influence of guofang hangtian cadres has taken a leap forward. Last year, Wang Yong, a former deputy general manager of CASIC and Chairman of the State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), was promoted to State Councilor. CASC’s Ma Xingrui and Norinco’s Zhang Guoqing were appointed Deputy Party Secretary of Guangdong province and Deputy Party Secretary of Chongqing, respectively. In January 2013, CASIC alumnus Chen Qiufa (1954), a former MIIT vice-minister, SASTIND director and head of the China Space Administration (CSA), was made Chairman of the Hunan province People’s Political Consultative Conference. Chen’s concurrent posts at MIIT, SASTIND and CSA were subsequently taken over by CASIC’s Xu Dazhe. Other vice-ministerial or ministerial cadres with military-industrial or space-technology background include Deputy Governor of Hunan province Tan Zuojun (1968), who is a former general manager of CSIC; Party Secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology Wang Zhigang (1957), who is former CETC general manager; and Vice-Chairman of the ACFTU, Jiao Kaihe, who is a former general manager at Norinco. Two former deputy directors of SASTIND, Hu Yafeng and Huang Qiang, were transferred to regional administrations earlier this year. Hu (1958), a former manager of the arms manufacturer North Tool Co. Ltd., was appointed to Vice-Governor of Heilongjiang province. Huang (1963), former director of the AVIC First Aircraft Research Institute, was promoted Vice-Governor of Gansu province this January (Sina.com, August 12; Ta Kung Pao, July 28).
Reliable PLA Cadres Can Save the Party and Lead Economic Reforms
What are the reasons behind these personnel moves? As China seeks to move away from manufacturing up the value chain to high-tech industries and compete with developed countries, military and space-related industries are playing a bigger role in helping civilian factories make the transition. The assignment of cadres with military-industrial experience to manufacturing centers such as Guangdong, Zhejiang and Chongqing will facilitate synergy between civilian and military companies. It was while Xi was serving as Party secretary of Zhejiang from 2002 to 2006 that he resuscitated the quasi-Maoist concept of “pingzhan jiehe [the synthesis of the requirements of peace and war] and sharing of resources [between civilian and military sectors]” (Xinhua, February 14, 2006). Successful examples of pingzhan jiehe have included Tianhe Supercomputers, whose research and development was handled by the National University of Defense Technology and other military-run laboratories. Both CASC and CASIC are helping design China’s first commercial aircraft, the Comac C919. Military facilities have also made contributions to some of China’s most prestigious architectural structures. The steel frames for the 2008 Olympics Bird’s Nest Stadium were produced by China State Shipbuilding Corp (Ministry of Education, June 18, 2013; Liberation Army Daily, July 24, 2008). Given that the United States and other Western countries have restrictions regarding joint ventures with military-related companies in Communist countries, the pingzhan jiehe tradition could put a damper on the investment and related activities of Western technology firms in China.
Xi’s Militarization of Elite Politics
There are, however, fundamental political factors behind the changing career trajectories of jungong hangtian cadres. First, the installation of jungong hangtian cadres in the Party-state apparatus has served to broaden Xi’s power base, as the defense establishment is a key pillar of political support for him as President and commander-in-chief (See “All the General Secretary’s Men: Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle Revealed,” China Brief, February 15, 2013). This explains the fact that at a national conference on boosting the employment prospects for demobilized PLA personnel last May, Xi indicated that “I am also a junzhuan ganbu [cadre transferred from the military].” Second, at a time when a record number of mid- to senior-ranked officials are being investigated for corruption, Xi hinted that cadres with a military background could be less amenable to the temptations of material benefits. “At this new historical period, large numbers of junzhuan ganbu have taken into consideration the requirements of the national situation and made proud contributions to the reform and open-door [policy] through selfless devotion,” Xi told the conference (People’s Daily, May 30; Xinhua, May 27).
It is instructive that at an August meeting of the Central Leading Group on Comprehensively Deepening Reform, Xi urged SOEs, especially the yangqi, to rectify the “unreasonably high salaries and income of managers.” Xi told the meeting that “responsible comrades in the yangqi should strengthen their sense of responsibility and their sense of devotion [to the Party]” (Jinghua Times [Beijing], August 19; China News Service, August 18). The CEOs of military-industrial and space-technology companies, whose remuneration is generally lower than those of non-military corporations, are set up as paragons of political correctness and lofty morality. This seems to be one reason why Xi has rewarded them with seats on the Central Committee as well as senior posts in the government hierarchy. No senior managers of military or space-technology firms have been detained for graft-related investigations since Xi began his large-scale anti-corruption campaign in late 2012.
Since assuming power in 2012, Xi has initiated ideological and rectification campaigns geared toward upholding the purity of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and thwarting alleged attempts by “anti-China foreign forces” to promote “peaceful evolution” in the country. It seems evident that the commander-in-chief hopes that PLA officers—as well as junzhuan hangtian personnel—can set an example against “bourgeois-liberalization,” a code word for the infiltration of “Western” democratic ideas in China. This summer, the General Political Department of the PLA kicked off a campaign that aims at “seriously guarding against political liberalization” within the military. A key slogan of this ideological movement is “implementing reform without changing [the country’s] directions; undertaking transformations without changing the color [of the Party].” According to legal scholar and social critic Mou Chuanheng, Xi wanted the military sector to set a national example of political rectitude. “Xi is pushing the military to the first line of domestic politics,” Mou indicated. (Minzhuzhongguo.org, September 14; Liberation Army Daily, August 11).
Soon after Xi arrived in Zhejiang in 2002, the Party boss talked about the intimate correlation of the civilian and military sectors in an address to the Zhejiang Military District: “Without a strong national defense, there won’t be a peaceful international situation and a stable domestic situation—and it will be impossible to implement economic construction.” He called upon Party and government officials to “use one hand to grasp economic [work], and the other hand to grasp national defense.”  While raising the profile—and exposure—of jungong hangtian cadres may bring substantial benefits to the economy, the militarization of the polity could enshrine the mentality of the “one-voice chamber” that Chairman Mao imposed on China with the help of his ever-loyal defense establishment.
- The ten leading military-industrial and space-technology corporations are China Aerospace Science & Tech Corp (CASC); China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp (CASIC); Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC); China State Shipbuilding Corp (CSSC); China Shipbuilding Industry Corp (CSIC); China North Industries Group Corporation (CNGC or Norinco); China South Industries Group Corporation (CSGC); China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC); China nuclear Engineering Group Corp (CNECC); and China Electronics Technology Group Corp (CETC).
- Cited in Xi Jinping, Work on the Substance, Go Along the Front Ranks (Beijing: The Central Party School Publishing House, 2013), p. 283.