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Keeping the army in step
China’s armed forces are called the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) but they are in fact a Communist Party force. They brought the regime to power in 1949 when, despite the contribution of the peasant masses, it was the organization, discipline, military skills and weaponry (from the USSR or US arms captured from the Nationalists) that won the day for Mao over Chiang Kai-shek. Power came from the barrel of the gun, and that made it all the more vital for the Party to control the army.
Bo jitters. Now, in the wake of the Bo Xilai affair, the leadership appears to have jitters about the loyalty of the PLA. There have been rumours that Bo had forged potentially destabilizing links with PLA units not just in Chongqing – sources there say he arranged for the transfer to local army units of assets seized from business and underworld circles during the anti-crime campaign – but also among fellow “princeling” generals and in Yunnan, where his father had led military units during the civil war. One Internet rumour, which has been denounced by the PLA media, is that Bo had fomented a plot to seize power through a military uprising with the support of top leaders from some military commands, including the Chengdu Military Command.
There’s loyalty and sub-loyalty. PLA newspapers and magazines have run two dozen reports of speeches by leading figures as well as editorials and commentaries to stress the need for loyalty to the Party. One commentary in the PLA press stressed the need to “unify thinking and build consensus” and to ignore “harmful rumours circulated on the Internet”. An editorial in the PLA newspaper China Military this week says that
“Loyalty to the Communist Party is the core and soul of loyalty of PLA cadres. Some people have “sub-loyalty”, i.e. they say very loudly they are loyal but do not agree with the bottom of their heart, or they are loyal when things go well and start to have doubts in times of difficulty; or they keep the right position when facing major issues of principles but try to cut corners in small things, etc.
“We should listen to the Party and follow the Party at any time and all times, be highly consistent with the Central Party Committee, with the Central Military Commission and with Chairman Hu, in thought and in action.
“The continuous development of information technology has made ideological attacks and penetration more convenient and more subtle; greatly enriched material life has made the temptation and corrosion of power, money and sex more direct and more complex. Especially this year when we will be holding the 18th Party Congress, domestic and foreign hostile forces have increased the intensity of infiltration and sabotage, manufactured a variety of incidents and rumours to destroy our stability and unity. In such a special year, we should hold high the banner of the party’s command, always remain sober-minded, strictly abide by political discipline and take practical action to accept the test of our loyalties.”
A million traitors. At the same time, the military commentator Rear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong has been sounding off about “more than one million Chinese traitors” in the country working especially for the US – diplomats, economists and military personnel. “Some of our scholars are trained by the Americans,” he added. “They read American books, have accepted American ideals and they are now helping the US to fool the Chinese.”
Younger commanders. Among the commanders who have been mentioned as possible Bo sympathizers is Liu Yuan, the political commissar of the PLA’s General Logistics Department. His father, Liu Shaoqi, worked as the number two figure in the Communist regime with Bo’s father before they were both persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. General Liu may be hoping for promotion to the Politburo at the Party Congress later this year and has made a mark with an anti-corruption campaign in the PLA that has claimed some significant scalps.
Another rising “princeling” general is Zhang Haiyang, the political commissar of the powerful Second Artillery Corps, which controls China’s missile force, and the son of a former member of the Central Military Commission, Zhang Zhen. One of the PLA newspaper’s articles was aimed specifically at the Second Artillery Corps, which it urged to keep to “the purity of Party spirit”.
Staying in line. Both Liu and Zhang have evidently proved their loyalty, as they have been sent abroad at the head of military missions since Bo’s fall. Our sources do not believe there is any serious dissention in the PLA ranks; but ahead of the transition at the top in China later this year, both the outgoing and incoming leaders want to assure themselves of the military’s loyalty. At times of transition, unity is all, and nowhere more so than in the forces.