By: Seetal Patra, Research Analyst, GSDN
He has an entry of his own in Baidu encyclopedia typically put as “series of guiding principles for building a new type of people’s army that dares to fight wars and that wins wars.” His speeches in the recent times are seeing a leitmotif of ‘Readiness for War.’ The walls in military sites in China see the slogan of “dares to fight wars and win wars.” He is Xi Jinping, the President of China, who has managed to build a brand of politics and power capture in China.
Xi Jinping’s tenure since 2013 has seen a steady, robustly, and authoritarian changes being made in the PLA (People’s Liberation Army). The current dispensation of Xi, precisely in 2017 and in practice in 2018 after reassuring his position by silently tweaking the Constitution has set three goals for the PLA. PLA’s modernization by 2049-2050; mechanization of PLA army forces and significant progress in the integration of information and communications by 2027 and army building and professionalization by 2035 which includes full modernization and ‘intelligentisation’. This does not end here. The goal of Xi with regard to the PLA, is autonomy into the PLA’s command and control, weapon’s systems and platforms, along with decision making, which is to be done by reforms in the theory and organizational structure, service personnel, and weaponry. The goal being, ability to fight and win wars by the mid-21st century. The structure is to implement this across all the PLA service arms- army, navy, air force, rocket force along with the strategic support forces.
2023 ended with Chinese note of purging nine Generals made silent headlines, with the Israel-Gaza conflict taking the centre-stage and newsrooms rambling with opinions of Pro-Palestine or Anti-Israel. Lyle Morris, a foreign policy, and national security fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute considers this purging of the nine generals as a significant one, considering China has kept herself busy in making profound changes in nuclear strategy of China. The nine PLA Generals who have been removed from the legislature were from military divisions including, three former commanders or vice commanders of the PLA Rocket force; one a former Air Force Chief and one a Navy Commander, who played their parts in South China Sea issue. And the other four included the officers from the Equipment division. The consolidation of the PLA is an ongoing job in China, and requires a lot more nuanced approach to consider it done.
The purges can be safely considered as a setback for Xi led administration. His administration has pumped billions and have been developing equipment to build a world class military by 2050. This plan of action has seen an outsized defense budget year on year. The rate of growth in China’s defense budget has direct and close links with its economic development and Chinese perceived understanding of national and regional security threats. But the plan of action of Xi’s military advancements does not culminate as a security provider only, rather it has the direct correlation to augment its position as a hegemony, as a power to reckon with. Xi led China believes in replacing USA as the super power, thwarting India via its back door treachery, and keep Russia at bay as a friend and regularly undermining its potential to reassert its lost super power tag.
“Apre`s moi, le de`luge, one of the very famous expressions by an absolutist French monarch, which gets translated as, the propensity of the clinging onto power by the assertive rulers, who deny to accept and consider the consequences for their successors. This is exactly what is in action in China. He has ensured a series of centralization measures which were solely intended to increase the internal cohesion of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) and in effect gripping its position in the Chinese society. Xi has successfully gone away from the ‘group-oriented leadership’ style of his post Mao predecessors and has effectively brought a system based and believing in the ‘concentration of power.’ It is a popular view that Xi Jinping is a dictator, and the Sino administration gets his work done in a jiffy. But that does not hold true necessarily. The power clasps onto as the President of China, Chairman of the CCP, and the Chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission, but does not necessarily translate as to the Gandhi of Chinese politics.
When we define power, it comes in a package of three; the decision-making power, agenda setting power, and the face of power. Among the three, the most effective one is the face of the power. This understanding of power simply influences the thinking of the people. With this half the job is done.
But the ground reality of Chinese politics determines the absence of the most important lever of power, the face of power. Xi has been successfully running this country not by consensus, but by fear. People are not necessarily following him voluntarily, rather are nodding to political power running the risks of not adhering to him. The Anti-Corruption campaign, the arrest of a lot of high-ranking officials, and the sudden disappearance of many prominent figures further rips the injury deeper as to unfaithfulness towards the state. This parameter of running a country by fear and not by consensus, confirms that the people who are not loyal to your political dispensation shall rebel with the slightest possibility to run away from the state gaze.
This further gets aggravated with the sacking and purging of high-ranking military officials. Even though Xi can remain in power indefinitely till his will wishes, but the potential shift of power comes in closed rooms of husses and whispers. If a communist regime anti-corruption campaign could not resist and desist the wrong doers of corruption, that shows signs of silent rebellion. Extreme upkeep ad uptight regime causes suffocation, and the frugality of power dynamics makes its way into the lower and higher rungs of hierarchy.
This anti-corruption campaign in China is the pathway to weaken the so-called factions that are not loyal to the Politburo. He has been trying to build his own faction, but at the same time also trying to consolidate everyone into his own faction. A political system without opponents and disagreements causes resentments, and this is what is at play in Chinese bureau and administration.
Xi led Chinese communist government must understand the façade of democracy is at risk. The continuous rumblings within the hierarchy are a potential omen to the power of Xi. The civilizational truth of China is silent resentment with aggressive suppression. The history of Tiananmen Square incident speaks abounds, and this is feared by Xi but struggles to maneuver with the gluttony of close-fisted power and ambition.