President Xi Jinping – general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) – would be declared a “mentor” in the Constitution at the 19th Congress of the CCP that will begin on 18 October in Beijing.
This honour has so far been given only to Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
Jinping was designated as the “core of the leadership” at the sixth plenum of the CCP in October 2016.
Growing Clout of Xi
In fact, speculation is rife that, like Mao, Jingping may be named ‘chairman’ for life and that his ‘guiding thought’ may be incorporated in the Constitution.
Since his appointment as the general secretary in November 2012, Jinping has steadily consolidated his position as the unchallenged leader of China and now enjoys immense power and influence in China’s polity, far more than his immediate predecessors.
Jayadeva Ranade, president, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, New Delhi, and former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, wrote in Sunday Guardian Live:
Today Xi Jinping holds 13 formal positions… Included among the organisations under his direct supervision are the sensitive national security apparatus, cyber security, the National Security Council, the military and the economy.
How Xi Rose to the Top
The princeling son of a revolutionary leader, Jingping is the first civilian chairman of the CMC. One of the key stratagems that facilitated his rise to the position of undisputed numero uno was his carefully choreographed plan to gain control over the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Jingping realised this goal through military reforms, the promotion of loyalists and the removal of generals who did not toe the line happily.
… in the PLA at least 86 officers of the rank of major general were under investigation or had been arrested for corruption. By March 2017, a total of 4,885 PLA officers were officially reported to have been “punished” for graft. Another 50 generals were retired this January, clearing the way for Xi Jinping to promote over 135 general officers and ensure that the PLA’s senior echelons are filled with persons of his choice.Ranade in Sunday Guardian Live
Military Reforms Initiated
Large-scale military reforms were initiated by Jinping to make the PLA a more modern force that can preserve China’s territorial integrity and project power in China’s area of strategic interest.
Reforms have led to the disbandment of the four ‘traditional’ general departments (general staff, political, logistics, and equipment) and the establishment of 15 new departments, all of which have been placed directly under the CMC.
These units include the provincial military commands, military academies, and universities that come directly under the Ministry of Defence. They also include the headquarters of the PLA Army, navy, air force, rocket force (erstwhile Second Artillery) and the newly constituted Strategic Support Force.
The seven existing ‘military regions’ have been dismantled and five ‘outward looking’ joint theatre commands have been established. Five group armies have also been disbanded, leaving 13.
Xi Jingping has further tightened his grip over the PLA by assuming a more direct role as head of the new Joint Operations Command Centre, which puts him in command of the PLA’s military operations and plans. This new role holds tremendous political significance.Monika Chansoria, senior fellow, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi
China is growing increasingly more assertive about sovereignty claims in its neighbourhood, particularly in the East and South China seas. The PLA Navy is seeking to extend China’s strategic outreach through increased military presence overseas, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.
Besides sweeping reforms of the military to enhance combat readiness and operational efficiency, Jingping has ordered the cutting of troop levels by 300,000 to a total of two million.
He has devoted time and effort to the modernisation of the PLA and directed its leadership to streamline the organisational and command structures for a more effective fighting force.
Repeated Calls for Loyalty
Officially, the PLA is the armed wing of the Communist Party and Xi Jinping has often reminded the leadership of this fact. In April 2017, Jinping demanded that all military units be absolutely loyal to the Communist Party.
In August, Jingping asserted:
You shall be unswervingly loyal to the absolute leadership that the party has over the army, heed the call of the party, follow the party.
These repeated calls for loyalty and obedience have had the desired effect with “state-run and controlled newspapers carrying full-page expressions of absolute loyalty by military commanders across regions.”
The PLA will send 253 delegates to the 19th Party Congress that will begin at Beijing on 18 October. The selection criteria have focussed on professionally competent officers who are considered politically reliable. Previous battle experience also weighed in favour of selection. Those tainted by corruption charges have been weeded out.
Pursuing the ‘Chinese Dream’
Having consolidated political and military power through some deft manoeuvres, Jinping is sure to be re-elected as general secretary of the Communist Party at its 19th Congress. No other general secretary has had as much power as Jingping in the last few decades. Both Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin had struggled to get a firm grip over the party and the PLA because of the lingering influence of their predecessors.
With the support of the party and the PLA, President Jinping will be able to pursue the “Chinese Dream” – an inspirational slogan coined by him to reflect people’s aspirations for a rejuvenated China.
However, realisation of the ‘Chinese dream’ will be possible only in a peaceful and stable environment. In order to promote a regional security environment conducive to socio-economic development, China will have to tone down its military assertiveness and confrontational attitude and graduate to cooperation and respect for a rules-based international order.
(The writer is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. He can be reached @gurmeetkanwal .The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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