Instead of reforming by democratizing the political system or at least dispersing political power among a collective leadership, the People’s Republic of China is going in the opposite direction, consolidating more power in the hands of one man — President Xi Jinping, who has been in office for only a year.
The 4-day plenum of the Central Committee of China’s ruling Communist Party (CCP) concluded with a plan to establish a state security committee that promises to make Xi the most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping.
At the same time, the CCP intends to retain “market forces” in the economy, thereby continuing China’s morphing from Marxism to fascism.
Jeremy Page reports for the Wall Street Journal, Nov. 12, 2013:
China’s Communist Party plans to establish a state security committee that has the potential to cement President Xi Jinping‘s hold on the military, domestic security and foreign policy and help establish him as the country’s most individually powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping.
The move is another step toward granting Mr. Xi a level of authority that eluded his two predecessors and reverses the trend toward a collective leadership since Deng, who launched China’s market-oriented reforms in 1978 and commanded respect across the military and the government.
Following Deng’s death in 1997, China has been ruled by technocrats and attempts to set up a national-security body have been stymied, chiefly by military resistance, Chinese foreign-policy experts have said.
The plan for the security committee, which is expected to work much like the U.S. National Security Council, was one of few concrete measures announced in a communiqué Tuesday after a meeting of the party’s Central Committee—its top 376 leaders.
The four-day session produced Mr. Xi’s first policy blueprint after a year at the helm. The communiqué said market forces would play a “decisive” role in the economy but also said the party’s hand would stay strong, a mixed message that raised questions about the direction of reforms.
[…] “I think this is huge. They’ve been talking about this forever and Xi Jinping has gone and done it in his first year in office,” said Christopher Johnson, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “He’s showing that he controls all the levers of power.”
The move fits in with the image China’s new leader has projected during his first year in office, when he paid several high-profile visits to military sites and ordered the armed forces to prepare to “fight and win” wars. He has set himself apart from China’s last two presidents, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, by quickly asserting his authority over the military and launching intense campaigns to fight corruption and enforce ideological orthodoxy in the party.
The need for the national-security body has grown as China grapples with security-related challenges both globally and at home. After more than a decade of building up its military and expanding its diplomatic clout, Beijing is now facing a backlash from neighbors alarmed by its muscular approach to maritime disputes in Asia.
Mr. Xi has raised the volume in relations with neighbors, involving China in a game of nerves with Japan and in general striking a less compromising tone on territorial disputes.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday declined to comment specifically on China’s plan for a security committee, but added, “We will keep an observant eye on the situation.”
Two Chinese experts on international relations and security said it would likely be modeled on the NSC and headed by Mr. Xi with representatives from the military, the Foreign Ministry and intelligence agencies, as well as some economic officials.
The new body, which Mr. Xi is almost certain to head, will now likely allow him to coordinate foreign and defense policy with less interference from other top leaders on the Politburo Standing Committee, analysts said.
The communiqué didn’t give any details about the new body, but several analysts suggested it would be more focused on internal security than its U.S. counterpart, given Mr. Xi’s clampdown on political dissent, especially among popular online social commentators, in recent months, several of whom have been detained and are awaiting trial.
What the new security committee could look like:
- Likely to be overseen by Mr. Xi and include military, foreign-affairs, intelligence and economic officials.
- Structured like the U.S. National Security Council but with stronger focus on domestic security
- Would give Mr. Xi greater control over China’s domestic security services
- Will let Mr. Xi coordinate foreign and defense policy without involving other leaders.
A mechanism for Mr. Xi to act forcefully on his own could lead to a more effective Chinese response to the U.S., which has been shoring up defense and trade ties with allies in the region, especially Japan. Beijing’s regional rival is in the process of establishing its own National Security Council as it strengthens defense capabilities to respond to China’s military buildup.
U.S. officials have often said that attempts to improve dialogue on security matters and resolve crises, especially on maritime issues, are hampered by a lack of consensus among Chinese leaders and absence of communication between the Chinese military and other agencies.
The new body could also give Mr. Xi greater control over China’s domestic security services, which grew powerful over the last few years under Zhou Yongkang, the internal-security chief who retired last year but whose own power, critics said, made him an outsize force in party politics.
Domestically, the party is confronting an increasingly demanding and well-informed middle class and sometimes-violent protests rooted in grievances among its citizenry. A bomb set off last week outside a Communist Party building in the northern city of Taiyuan was blamed on a man “dissatisfied with society.” Just a week before that, a suicide attack at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square involved people from the western region of Xinjiang, home to an ethnic-separatist movement.
“China’s external relations and its domestic situation have both become more complicated,” said Jin Canrong, an international-relations expert at Renmin University in Beijing, who saw the move as welcome. “Domestic agencies have become more and more fragmented and need more coordination,” he said. “Another reason is that the new leader’s political position is stronger than his predecessor.”
He and other experts said the idea was first proposed in the 1980s and that Mr. Jiang, who was party chief from 1989 to 2002, had tried to establish one in the 1990s. That failed largely because of resistance from the military and from other members of the Politburo Standing Committee who wanted to maintain their say in foreign and security policy, Chinese experts said. Opponents also argued it would overlap with existing party bodies.
Discussions about establishing a similar body were also short-lived under Mr. Hu, who struggled even more than Mr. Jiang to establish his authority over the military.
The persistent lack of coordination between China’s military and civilian leadership has made it hard for the U.S. in the past to reach Chinese leaders in times of crisis. During the Kosovo war in 1999, after the U.S. bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade—by accident, according to Washington—President Bill Clinton couldn’t get Mr. Jiang on the phone. When Chinese protesters besieged the American Embassy in Beijing over the incident and breached its walls, Ambassador James Sasser also found his Chinese Foreign Ministry contacts unreachable. Help arrived after Mr. Sasser reached China’s ambassador in Washington, Li Zhaoxing, who alerted Beijing to the security mess.
Two years later, when a U.S. reconnaissance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet and made an emergency landing on China’s Hainan island, U.S. officials found efforts at quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy stymied.
“It seems to be the case that when very, very difficult issues arise, it is sometimes hard to get the Chinese to answer the phone,” Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said at the time in an interview on PBS’s Newshour.
The 24 American crew members were released after 10 days and after the U.S. issued an apology.
U.S. officials have also lobbied for years for China to send military officers to join talks between civilian officials on security issues such as cybertheft and espionage.
“The problem has been stove-piping in the bureaucracy—A didn’t know what B was doing,” said Mr. Johnson of CSIS. “That was a problem back in the day, but didn’t matter as much as it does now because it didn’t have such global implications. They have to have a better coordinated system.”
Some experts said the body would likely focus on domestic security to a greater extent than its U.S. counterpart.
Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies said the new body would help to combat extremism, terrorism and separatism, according to an interview posted on the website of the People’s Daily newspaper.
The site also quoted Gong Li, the former head of the Central Party School’s Institute of International Strategic Studies, saying the new body would help to coordinate foreign policy and maritime security.
Its precise remit will depend on membership, experts say, including who takes the position beneath Mr. Xi on the body and whether that person has a similarly powerful role to the U.S. national-security adviser.
They said one leading candidate is Wang Huning, a former international-relations scholar who has headed the party’s powerful Central Policy Research Office since 2002 and was promoted last year to the Politburo—the party’s top 25 leaders.
Another candidate named by analysts is Meng Jianzhu, a Politburo member and former police chief who now heads the Politics and Law Committee, a party body that oversees the police, judiciary and intelligence agencies.
National security issues are currently handled by that committee and several other party bodies including the Central Military Commission, which controls the armed forces, a Foreign Affairs Leading Group and a National Security Leading Group.
[…]”This makes it look like Xi Jinping is almost all powerful,” said Shi Yinhong, another international-relations expert at Renmin University. “He’ll have more power than previous leaders to conduct foreign policy and security affairs.”
H/t CODA’s Sol Sanders