The internal struggle for the Party’s military

As we approach a crucial handover of power at the Party’s 18th National Congress, perhaps no issue is of more critical concern to senior Party leaders than the CCP’s control of the country’s armed forces.

Earlier this year there were rumors that Chinese President Hu Jintao, also head of China’s Central Military Commission, was struggling internally for control of the military agenda. Other rumors suggested that one of the PLA’s most senior generals, Zhang Qinsheng (章沁生), was under investigation for his alleged support for nationalization of China’s armed forces.

The hints of division were given some credence in early May as a strongly-worded editorial in the People’s Liberation Army Daily warned against “international hostile forces” advocating that China’s military be commanded by the state rather than by the Party.

The “nationalization” issue claimed its first media casualty in late May, as one of China’s top investigative reporters, CMP fellow Yu Chen, was removed from his post at Southern Metropolis Daily. Chen’s removal stemmed from a social media post calling for nationalization of the military that was re-posted from the official Weibo account of the paper’s “In Depth” section, where Chen was an editor.

Yesterday, an editorial in the official People’s Daily by a top military official again reiterated the point that the pro-nationalization argument is “erroneous.” The editorial, “Actively Fostering Core Values Among Modern Revolutionary Military Personnel”, addresses the practical issue of how to ensure Chinese military commanders and troops fall into line with the Party.

The editorial is written by Yang Yuwen (杨玉文), identified as “a military commissar for an enterprise group within the Jinan Military Region.”

Yang’s editorial calls for a more vigilant attitude toward the ideological training of military personnel. Its headline on the international website of China Central Television brings the crux out more forcefully: “We Must State Clearly that ‘Nationalization of the Military’ is Wrong.”

Yang writes:

[We must] lead commanders and troops to be even more steadfast in their belief in the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Faced with noise and static in the ideological sphere, we must persist in using scientific standpoints, views and methods to state clearly from a theoretical standpoint why such views as ‘the non-Party nature of the military’ (军队非党化) and ‘nationalization of the military’ (军队国家化) are erroneous.

Yang goes on to prescribe a range of methods to ensure that Chinese military commanders and troops are properly indoctrinated. First of all, the military must “create effective platforms”. Yang explains:

In the modern era, mobile phones, the internet and other [tools] are daily becoming the primary platform by which commanders and troops (官兵), and an important cultural and lifestyle space. This demands that we actively occupy the spiritual and cultural position that is the internet, working hard to raise the influence and contagiousness of core [Party] values among contemporary revolutionary military personnel. . . In recent years, we have developed and improved our [offering of] a vital, healthy and upright study and entertainment platform, including more than 20 offering such as red animation [programming], online classrooms, online [information about] military history, military website-hosted blogs and chatrooms for military personnel.

Finally, in addition to effective online tools and training for military personnel, the Party must maintain tight-fisted control over the ideas to which members of China’s military are exposed:

Third, we must enhance information controls. In order to guard against the influence of harmful information on commanders and troops, we must build and perfect the release and censorship of information, and related systems such as for holding those responsible for harmful information to account, grasping information dynamics in a timely way, enhancing channeling of public opinion and cleansing the online cultural environment.

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