August 01, 2005

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It's Army Day

Today in China is Army Day; it marks the 78th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). It recalls the first engagement (in Nanchang) between rebellious Nationalist forces led by He Long and Zhou En-Lai and the soldiery loyal to the KMT under the command on Chiang Kai-Shek, and is considered a very important date in the annals of modern Chinese history.

So it seems unusually direct for a general close to current Chinese leader Hu Jintao to sharply remind his comrades on this day of their obligation of unswerving loyalty to the party. Today's Standard carries the story and speculates about ongoing power politics within the PLA, particularly given the large number of officers given full general's rank by outgoing President Jiang Zemin.

Although we are now in a new era of Chinese politics, these signs of internal friction hearken back to a decades-old debate about the PLA about whether it should be more 'red' or 'professional'; that is to say, whether professional qualifications or loyalty to the party line was more important. The early high point of professionalization in the PLA was during and in the aftermath of the Korean War, when the Chinese successfully defied the might of McArthur and the American legions and fought them to an armistice. But war hero Peng Dehuai's brave defiance of Mao's 'Great Leap Forward' led to his being disgraced by the party.

Over the next twenty years, particularly during the Cultural Revolution, the pendulum within the PLA swung very much towards political orthodoxy, with the result that the most powerful generals were the most politically astute cadres within the army. The limits of that strategy were demonstrated after Mao's death in the disastrous war with Vietnam in 1979.

That war caused as much soul-searching within the Chinese military as Vietnam did to the US armed forces, resulting in rapid professionalization of the armed forces, to the extent of them developing many institutions independent of party control. The world, and the Politburo, paused with baited breath on one tragic day in 1989; but ultimately the PLA remained loyal to the party leadership.

In the era of privatisation and commercial enterprise being wedded to 'Chinese socialism', though, the party did realize it needed more oversight over the military, which, with their armaments (and other) industries, they were creating a fiefdom of their own, sometimes dictating foreign policy initiatives with arms sales. So over the last decade, the need for politicization has increased somewhat, although the morale and professional level of the armed forces remains high given their substantially increased budgets.

Ultimately though, as Mao once said, "power comes down the barrel of a gun," and the CCP's monopoly on power remains so long as their monopoly remains on the PLA. In the absence of democratic elections, the CCP's legitimacy arises from prosperous government. In an increasingly sophisticated and complex economy, the ties that bind the PLA to the CCP remain quaintly expressed in Marxist-Leninist terms. That being the case, it is no wonder that the head cadres in Beijing feel the need to remind the Army, on their special day, who is boss...

posted by HK Dave on 08.01.05 at 12:56 PM in the


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