Army Backs Party Control

The People's Liberation Army moves to quash calls for changes in China's change of command.
2012-03-20
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People's Liberation Army delegates outside the Great Hall in Beijing during the National People's Congress, March 13, 2012.
AFP

China's three-million strong armed forces have vowed continuing allegiance to the ruling Communist Party, an official military paper said amid an evolving political scandal and calls for changes to the chain of command.

China has already tightened domestic security in its major cities in the wake of the ouster of former rising political star and Chongqing Party secretary Bo Xilai.

Now, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is moving to quash calls for any changes to its command structure ahead of a key leadership transition at the forthcoming 18th Party Congress later this year.

"We must hold firm to our support for the absolute leadership of the Party in military affairs," the paper said in an opinion piece on Monday, in a move analysts said was an attempt to quash further debate on a transfer of military allegiance to the state.

Hong Kong-based military affairs analyst Ma Dingsheng said the article was mainly aimed at ensuring stability in the run-up to the leadership succession.

"Of course it has to do with [the succession]," Ma said. "I'm sure that there are voices within the government and within society calling for the nationalization of the military, but how influential are they?"

"This piece is talking about stability in the military ahead of the 18th Party Congress," he said.

"It doesn't matter what is going on inside Zhongnanhai, the military absolutely must obey the Party Central Committee," Ma said, referring to the closed complex of gardens and palaces at the heart of Beijing, where Chinese politics at the highest level are conducted.

Ma said that the central government is keen to ensure that no one will be able to make use of political infighting to gain an army.

"If it occurred to anyone to try to use any part of the army as part of a political power struggle, this would be totally out of the question," he said

Chongqing scandal

The additional security on Chinese streets comes after a political scandal involving the former police chief and Party secretary of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, a city of 25 million.

Wang Lijun, the city's police chief,  was fired by former Chongqing chief Bo Xilai after he pointed out some links between major graft investigations and Bo's close relatives, according to leaked documents circulating online.

Wang later sought help from the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, sparking a massive police presence on the streets of that city.

The scandal has brought to light an unflattering picture of power struggles among the Communist Party elite, which usually happen away from the public gaze.

U.S.-based scholar Ran Bogong said however that there is likely to be scant support for any change in the military command structure among the highest-ranking PLA generals.

"Of course Western countries would like the military to be nationalized," said Bo. "But I think I can say that this is wishful thinking."

"For anyone in the highest ranks of military command to advocate nationalization would be political suicide."

The PLA is currently the military arm of the Chinese Communist Party, because the two were barely separated during the years of war against Japan and against the Nationalist Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-shek, which ended with the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Bo said that even the Constitution makes it clear that the PLA is under Party control.

"They have a sign up saying 'Defense Ministry,' but in fact it's really [a facade for] the Party's Central Military Commission," he said. "The Party and the state are really the same entity."

Li Weiqin, political science professor at Wake Forest University, North Carolina, said that it would be hard for the PLA to be commanded by the state without some kind of competition for power.

"Right now, they don't have a competitive political system .... Obviously, the Party isn't going to let go of its hold on power, so there would have to be either a revolutionary regime change or a democratic regime change."

Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.