In first two parts of China Vs Jinping, we have analysed fallouts of Jinping’s anti-corruption purge of politico-military leadership and his merciless crackdown on Military Business Empire of People’s Liberation Army including huge human organ trade and transplant industry. Both steps have created much uproar in China as those arrested and prosecuted in the sweeping campaign were powerful in their respective fields. After assuming the office, Jinping had vowed to catch “Tigers and Flies” engulfed in corruption, which was veiled reference to all ranging from “Top to Bottom” irrespective of their position, fame, persona and honour in public and party life.
In this paper (3rd in a series) we will go through Jinping’s ambitious structural reforms in Chinese armed forces on command and organizational level, integration of all services into one, cohesive, tri services integrated theatre command abolishing supremacy of PLA commanders, dominated by infantry officers. These reforms are similar to US reforms of its armed forces which were based on United States’ The Goldwater–Nichols Act-1986, to solve the problems caused by inter-service rivalry and operational failures leading caused by such rivalry. Though these reforms are going to increase the efficiency of Chinese armed forces, it has generated resentment and backlash from mighty commanders of PLA.
One more and probably most significant factor of Chinese military reforms are proposed a sharp cut in PLA strength. The containing PLA strength from 2.4 million to 1 million over a period of time is biggest and boldest step taken by Jinping immediately after taking over as Chinese President. There are many angles to this move and many theories propped up from a Western and American analyst. The most significant and logical conclusion was, fear in Jinping’s mind about PLA’s wealthy and powerful generals! We will try to find out whether the fear has anything to do with reality or not.
PLA Openly Attacked Jinping’s Military Reforms
China is the country governed by a single party. The Chinese media is only state run newspapers and TV channels pouring in information which party wants to disseminate. Every word and case is being strictly monitored and censored. Utmost care is taken not to transmit any information which is detrimental to party’s image. But, the scale of Jinping and PLA is such a high and tensions between two camps are unprecedented that PLA’s mouthpiece daily People’s Daily blatantly attacked Jinping over reforms in armed forces.
In November 2015, when structural reforms were already declared and the majority of the Chinese including PLA, were yet to judge Jinping’s capacities People’s Daily- the mouthpiece of PLA committed a serious offence. The two authors associated with PLA Academy, Mr Sun Kejia and Mr Han Xiao lashed out in clear words at proposed military reforms. They warned of serious consequences if proposed military reforms were pushed through. Later the article was pulled down from the website after much uproar.
Surprisingly, even after taking on practically omnipotent Jinping, no one could harm any one of the two authors, which launched a scathing attack on Jinping. The reason behind the immunity which both authors enjoyed is not known but it is not impossible to judge. Though publicly just two authors were visible attacking Jinping’s policies on military reforms, everyone in China knows that they were voicing the opinion of thousands of PLA ranks against the possible axing of their jobs and stripping them of various privileges which they were enjoying these days.
In China, such direct public expression of opinion was unusual and hard to believe!
The Military Reforms and Trimming PLA
Military reforms envisaged by Jinping would see the slashing of PLA strength from 2.4 million to just 1 million within next few years. It means half of the PLA troops would lose their jobs. Moreover, new theatre command structure will take down army’s supremacy within armed forces. Though these reforms; if actually executed successfully, would convert Chinese armed forces in lethal, formidable and most professional fighting machine in the world. The initial indications and structural, psychological and practical deficiencies in the system suggest that reforms are going to hit hard rock.
The central theme of military reforms is converting military from “quantitative” to “qualitative” force. But what is going actually going to be on the ground is huge cuts in infantry combat troops and a simultaneous increase in naval strength, rocket force and strategic support forces. Obviously, infantry is the biggest loser in this exercise.
The New Joint Theatre Commands consisting Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern, and Central commands will rearrange troops and resources in respective areas and merge it within the single homogeneous structure to boost mobility, pace and proficiency of the troops by integrating all resources into one cohesive unit.
The theme is based on American Goldwater–Nichols Act-1986, which would continue to appoint three services chiefs, but none of the three chiefs would have any operational power. They would cease to be the advisers of Central Military Commission and President. This whole power will be consolidated in the hands of CMC head and Commander-In-Chief.
The Unrest in Demobilized Soldiers
As an ultimate fallout of demobilized Chinese soldiers after the restructuring of PLA, the large scale unrest growing among those who lost the jobs. In October and November 2016 two protest marches were called at powerful Central Military Commission HQ in Beijing to demand compensation and penalties for snatching their jobs in new military reforms. On October 11, 2016, near about 30,000 demobilized troops took part in a protest at CMC headquarters in Beijing. Another protest on November 01, 2016 vanished under media blackout as the government imposed stringent prohibition orders on covering the protests fearing its spread.
Why Jinping Reminded Army of Party Supremacy?
Xi Jinping reviewed military exercise to mark the 90th anniversary of People’s Liberation Army this week. While addressing the troops he reminded the military of “Gutian Congress” Principle of party’s supremacy over the military. He told PLA to ‘uncompromisingly follow Communist party leadership and it shall march wherever Party points too’. Many believed that deep sense of mistrust and insecurity in Jinping’s psyche about PLA has forced the president to speak it up.
Recent aggressive steps taken by Jinping which directly or indirectly hit vested interests of military commanders has placed him at loggerheads with men in uniform.
The balance of power hangs in imbalance as uncertainty looms over Jinping’s career due to his consistent campaign against powerful party leaders and military commanders. It would be interesting to watch the events in China in next one year to wait and see which camp turns the table and whether Jinping tightens the grip or loses the game.
Jinping as Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces
In April 2016 Jinping officially took charge of the chief of newly formed Joint Operations Command Center of Chinese Armed Forces. Though, being president of China, he was chairman of Central Military Commission- CMC, the latest installation of Jinping as Head of JOCC has far reaching implications.
China is economically sharply divided into two distinct parts; wealthy, industrious and rich coastal China and poor, underdeveloped and impoverished hinterlands. The majority population in China is living in poor and underdeveloped rural China. The Great Equality Utopia assured by glossy Communism has already waned away. The wealthy coastal area has economic bonds with Europe and USA and they have nothing to do with Chinese masses. Under such circumstances, it is a difficult task for Jinping to control brewing anger among rural Chinese masses, which were the backbone of the Chinese revolution. Xi Jinping’s biggest concern is to monitor and quell any future turmoil which would come to fore either slowly or in the form of a huge outburst of public anger. Jinping wants Communist Party to control it. But biggest hurdle in quenching the fire is PLA and paramilitary troops.
After ruthless crackdown on so called tainted commanders, former security Czar, two former vice chairmen of Central Military Commission, dismantling lucrative military business empire including PLA controlled medical facilities and dismantling monopoly and dominance of PLA in Chinese Armed Forces; Jinping needs more operational control over its forces, to keep vigilant eye on day to day affairs related to troops movements.
The composition of Chinese Armed Forces is also mattered of concern for Jinping. The majority of the Chinese troops are from Chinese hinterland which is deprived rich dividends of economic boom in the country and wealthy coastal region has a very negligible presence in forces. The huge economic disparity and wealth imbalance within two regions might trigger a chain of reactions in PLA, with the majority of the troops from the largely backwards region.
The sharp reduction in a number of troops would add to Jinping’s woes. As being autocratic country; expectation of fair compensation to troops removed from forces is somewhat unrealistic and it would hardly address in a country like China.
On The Other Hand, wealthy China is a potent threat to the Communist regime for a very strange reason. China watchers believe that real motive behind anti-corruption blitzkrieg is to warn wealthy Chinese and to deliver them subtle message to refrain from indulging in party affairs with enough financial resources in hand. In near future, Jinping might think of taking control of private assets to distribute it in the regions facing financial imbalance. To achieve it, he must have full control over its armed forces for dual purpose; to monitor and thwart unrest within PLA ranks deriving from peasant class and to pressurize affluent class from becoming dominant over party and policy makers.
Jinping hit most dangerous conglomerate of influential people in China
In one more direct bold move, Jinping hit most dangerous conglomerate of influential people in China. In January 2016, he installed Discipline Inspection Commission under the direct control of Central Military Commission specifically for corruption related to PLA ranks. PLA commanders with deep pockets and cross sectional influence across all spheres of industrial, commercial and Chinese elites are real time treat for Party in general and Jinping in particular. Within just a few months of the establishment of DIC, hundreds of PLA officials are purged from top to bottom.
The message was open and out to all PLA bigwigs- “fall in line or get prosecuted”. After years of career in PLA, there would be hardly anyone in the military with Mr Clean image, especially at the time when the military was running thousands of industrial, commercial enterprises all over China.
As a Head of Joint Operations Command Center means Commander-In-Chief of Chinese armed forces; he is in a position to monitor every movement of PLA of any scale, which could threaten his regime. After unleashing terror within Communist Party and military in the name of big bang anti-corruption drive, Jinping has established his most trusted aids at all nodal positions to monitor any movement by party or military which could topple him!
Present military reforms would take years to complete but its magnitude and number of people either losing their jobs or getting sidelined in due course will mount unbelievable pressure on the party and Mr President.
Let’s see how Jinping tackles the issue and whether he softens his stand or ups his ante against his rivals within party and PLA.