White Paper Expounds Civil-Military Relations in Xi Era

Publication: China Brief Volume: 15 Issue: 12

Chang Wanquan, China's Minister of Defense and the only military member sitting on the CCP Central Leading Group on Foreign Affairs (FLASG), the nation’s highest-level decision-making organ on diplomacy. (Credit: Xinhua)

As the world observed the 26th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the focus has remained on how this cataclysmic event has rolled back reforms and exacerbated the trend of major clans in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) monopolizing the nation’s economic and political resources. Yet the June 4, 1989, crackdown also proved to be a watershed in military-civilian relations. Not only has the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) become more powerful, there have been increasing signs of a significant militarization of national affairs and even everyday life.

While meeting troops responsible for crushing the “counter-revolutionary turmoil,” then chairman of the policy-setting Central Military Commission (CMC) Deng Xiaoping praised the PLA for being “a steel Great Wall [that protects] the Party and country.” Deng went on to eulogize Martial Law troops guarding Beijing as “the most beloved [zui ke’ai] people of them all” (Xinhua, July 31, 2005; People’s Daily, June 9, 1989). Through the 1980s, Deng had demobilized one million soldiers, reined in military spending and demanded that military forces sub-serve the country’s “core goal” of economic construction. While this reflected Deng’s insistence on keeping a low profile in world affairs (thus reducing the PLA’s role in China’s power projection), the Great Architect of Reform was anxious to prevent the recurrence of massive military interference in Chinese politics that was evident during much of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) (People’s Daily Online, May 26; People’s Daily, November 4, 2014). After the 1989 massacre, however, Deng systematically raised the clout of the top brass. The annual budget increase for the PLA and the paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP) was soon raised to double digits. For the first time since the Cultural Revolution, Deng in 1992 inducted a top general—Admiral Liu Huaqing—into the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s supreme ruling council (People’s Daily Online, December 20, 2013; 360doc.com [Beijing], November 10, 2013). (This practice was stopped at the 15th Party Congress of 1997, which was convened several months after Deng’s death).

Deng’s partial revival of the Maoist tradition of militarizing national affairs was enhanced when Xi Jinping became CCP General Secretary and CMC Chairman at the 18th Party Congress in late 2012. More than predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, Xi has since his days as Party secretary of Zhejiang Province from 2002 to 2007 resuscitated teachings of the Great Helmsman such as quanminjiebing (all civilians should become soldiers at times of crisis) and pingzhanheyi (the fusion of the peacetime and wartime [goals]). For example, Xi underscored in a speech to the top brass not long after becoming CMC chairman the importance of “coordinating economic construction and national defense construction” and “development under [the principle of] military-civilian integration.” “We must ensure that concern and enthusiasm for national defense, [participating in] and protecting national defense construction will become an ideological consensus and self-conscious action throughout society” (Xinhua, March 12, 2013; China News Service, March 11, 2013). While the pingzhenheyi slogan was raised in a PLA White Paper as early as 2000, neither ex-president Jiang Zemin nor ex-president Hu Jintao devoted much in the way of national resources to realize this goal (China.com, November 3, 2013; CCTV, October 16, 2000).

Civil-Military Integration Under Xi

Xi’s ambitions for “civil-military integration” (CMI) was fleshed out in the just-published State Council White Paper on China’s Military Strategy (State Council, May 26). The landmark document calls for the first time for “an all-element, multi-domain and cost-efficient pattern of CMI.” China’s Military Strategy indicated that authorities would promote “uniform military and civilian standards for infrastructure, key technological areas and major industries, explore ways and means for training military personnel in civilian educational institutions… and outsourcing [military] logistics support to civilian support systems.” Long-term economic policies should take into consideration “overall military-civilian planning and coordinated development” as well as “the abutment of military and civilian needs, and resource sharing” (People’s Daily, May 27; Global Times, May 26). Take for example, the design and construction of ports, airports, shipyards, railways and highways. Given that most heavyweight firms in the infrastructure sector are government-owned, it is relatively easy for Party-state authorities to ensure that specifications dovetail with requirements of civilian-military compatibility. In fact, provinces and major cities have, since last year, been asked to organize substantial infrastructure projects with both military and civilian participation (Liberation Army Daily, March 30; Phoenix TV Net, November 13, 2014).

The concept of country-wide mobilization is not new: it is the rationale for maintaining a system of military and para-military reservists estimated at 4.6 million. However, China’s Military Strategy indicates for the first time that the PLA should “boost the proportion [of reservists] in the Navy, Air Force as well as Second Artillery Forces.”

The reserves corps, which was set up in May 1983, has expanded to include divisions of infantry, artillery, armored units as well as engineering, communications, and anti-chemical warfare departments (People’s Daily, July 6, 2014). While the authorities have yet to release the numerical strength of the reservists, the White Paper suggests that they would be vastly expanded. “China aims to build a national defense mobilization system that can meet the requirements of winning informationized wars and responding to both emergencies and wars,” it notes. The White Paper also highlights ordinary folks’ involvement in “preparation for military struggles,” which is a key aspect of Chairman Mao’s “People’s Warfare” ethos. It points out that the nation will “give full play to the overall power of the concept of people’s war, [and] persist in employing it as an ace weapon to triumph over the enemy.” The document also underscores the need for “building closer relations between the government and the military as well as between the people and the military.”

President Xi is the first Chinese leader to have elevated and expanded education about defense mobilization to cover mid- to senior-ranked party and government officials. The National Defense Education Program (NDEP) was launched in 2013 by the CCP Organization Department and the PLA’s General Political Department. So far, 21 cadres from central units and 287 local officials have taken part in training regarding state security and development, as well as border and coastal defense. Recently, even the CEOs of selected state-owned enterprises have attended these defense-related pep talks. The state media quoted NDEP alumn Zhou Jian, a senior official at the Policy Planning Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as saying that the course had deepened his resolve to “use practical action to enthusiastically support national defense and the construction of military forces” (Xinhua, May 26; Xinhua Daily [Nanjing], March 29).

Another measure adopted by Xi to promote the influence of the military in civilian life is the transfer of CEOs of defense and space industries to party and government posts. Since the 18th Party Congress, which inducted a record number of PLA generals as well as the CEOs of defense and space industries into the CCP Central Committee, Xi has named a bevy of former senior executives in the military-industrial complex to top regional slots (see China Brief, September 25, 2014). Take, for instance, the mammoth maker of rockets and spaceships, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). Alumni of CASC who have won senior party and government appointments include Governor of Hebei Province Zhang Qingwei; Executive Vice-Governor of Zhejiang Yuan Jiajun; and Party Secretary of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone Ma Xingrui. Zhang Guoqing, a former chairman of Norinco, China’s best-known weapons manufacturer, was made Deputy Party Secretary of Chongqing metropolis in 2013, while Hao Peng, a former executive of Aviation Industry Corporation of China, was promoted Governor of western Qinghai Province the same year (Hong Kong Economic Journal, June 4; Duowei News, March 29). While most of these senior executives of defense and aerospace firms are not professional soldiers, they owe their meteoric rise to the PLA’s fortunes—and they are attuned to policy-making that would benefit the military establishment.

Military Influence Over Security Policy

The military influence in foreign and national-security policies is even more pronounced. This is despite the fact that Defense Minister General Chang Wanquan is the only military member sitting on the CCP Central Leading Group on Foreign Affairs (FLASG), the nation’s highest-level decision-making organ on diplomacy which groups together representatives from ministerial-level units including commerce, propaganda, foreign affairs, state security as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong affairs. Xi, who chairs the FLASG, relies on a day-to-day basis on a select group of “princeling generals”—a reference to senior officers who are the offspring of party elders—to advise him on diplomatic issues (Shanghai Observer [Shanghai], September 24, 2014; People’s Daily, June 23, 2014). They include the Political Commissar of the General Logistics Department General Liu Yuan (son of late state president Liu Shaoqi); Director of the General Armaments Department General Zhang Youxia (son of the late General Zhang Zongxun); and Political Commissar of the Academy of Military Sciences Liu Yazhou (son-in-law of former state president Li Xiannian) (see China Brief, April 3).

China’s Military Strategy has also lent credence to the view that the generals are spearheading Chinese foreign policy, especially in the Asia-Pacific Region. Citing one of the most famous proverbs of Mao Zedong—“We will not attack unless we are attacked; If we are attacked, we will certainly counterattack”—the White Paper claims that Beijing has adopted an “active defense” strategy that is not aimed at any particular country. It reiterates that “China will never become an imperialist [power] and will never engage in military expansionism” (Phoenix TV Net, June 4). However, the bulk of China’s Military Strategy focuses on aggressive global hard-power projection, particularly efforts to substantiate China’s claims as a “maritime power.” For example, the duties of the PLA Navy have been expanded from “offshore waters defense” to “open seas protection.” The Air Force will shift its focus from “territorial air defense” to “both defense and offense.” Moreover, the whole nation would participate in “preparations for military struggle [regarding] winning informationized local wars, [while] highlighting maritime military struggle and maritime preparations for military struggle” (Ming Pao [Hong Kong], May 27; China News Service, May 26).

Rising Militarization of Chinese Security Policy

Major controversial initiatives in the Asia-Pacific Region in the past two years—the declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea, stationing an oilrig in waters within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone and massive reclamation works around several islets in the Spratly Islands chain—seem to reflect the views of military hawks. Indeed, China’s Military Strategy has broadened the key concept of China’s “core national interests” to include haiwailiyi youguanqu (literally “overseas zones affecting [national] interests”), which the English version of the White Paper translates as “the security of overseas interests concerning energy and resources [and] strategic sea lines of communication” (Jinghua Daily, May 27; New Beijing Post, May 27). That so many new concepts and initiatives about China’s national security and foreign policies are coming from the defense—instead of the diplomatic—establishment is one of the hallmarks of the Xi administration.

Perhaps the most lasting impact of the preponderance of the military sector is that this could predispose the spread of a kind of “war culture” especially among young Chinese. It is not coincidental that General Liu Yuan is a keen proponent of the quasi-militarization of everyday life. Liu noted in a controversial 2010 article that war culture “has crystallized the most time-honored and most critical intelligence of mankind” (Seeking Truth, September 1, 2010; People’s Daily, August 3, 2010). More recently, Major-General Xu Aishui, a much-published author, has argued that “in terms of military thought, superior traditions and institutional design, the unique culture of the people’s army has breached the front ranks of world civilization.” The veteran political commissar and military strategist urged the leadership to build up a “space culture, maritime culture and Internet culture that are compatible with a strong army, so that soldiers can demonstrate their charismatic culture in [different] arenas” (Guangming Daily, May 28). The relentless militarization of national life could have lasting consequences for China’s socio-political development as well as its relations with the world.