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Leadership: Chinese Officers Get A Reminder
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February 19, 2013:  The Chinese Communist Party fears it is losing touch with the armed forces. This is a serious matter, nearly as serious as efforts to reduce the growing corruption in the party and the army. The problem here is that the army is considered part of the Communist Party and its main job is to keep the communists in power. This was a concept pioneered by the Russians when the Soviet Union was formed in the early 1920s. The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) followed suit and this arrangement worked quite well as long as most national wealth was controlled by the CCP. The economic reforms of the 1980s shifted control over most GDP from party officials to entrepreneurs. While all officers and many lower ranking troops are CCP members, they came to see their future economic opportunities coming from the free market, not the favor of CCP bureaucrats. 

Then there is the growing corruption. The CCP has been increasing its efforts to curb corruption in the armed forces. It is taking two approaches. First, it is insisting that most new officers are college graduates. Since the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) was founded in the 1920s, the main qualification of a new officer was being a “good communist.” That is no longer the case and the last of the “old comrades” (officers who served in the late 1940s and early 1950s) are gone. There are still a lot of officers who came up in an atmosphere that favored “good communists” and tolerated a lot of corruption. Now a new generation of government leaders (all of them communists) are demanding that the officers be “good commanders” and much less corrupt. It’s a period of transition and there’s no telling when it will be reflected in better combat capabilities. But the CCP is now more worried about the growing number of officers who wrongly think they are in the military to defend China and not the CCP. This is very dangerous thinking as far as the CCP leadership is concerned.

As a result of these disturbing trends, the CCP recently ordered more attention be paid to the loyalty of officers, especially the many who are now college grads. The party wants everyone reminded that the military answers to the Chinese Communist Party first of all. The growth in college educated officers has led to more enthusiasm for political reform by younger officers and less concern about the survival of the party. This is a popular idea among pro-reform Chinese, who back the concept of the armed forces existing to defend China above all. This is heresy to the CCP.

The government is still concerned about corruption in the military (an ancient problem in China) because it has a direct impact on military capabilities. The same can be said for corruption outside the military, which is having a corrosive and increasingly obvious impact on the economy and public order. As the Chinese grow wealthier they get increasingly noisy about the corruption. Government efforts to curb corrupt practices are encountering a lot of (unofficial) resistance from the bureaucracy. It’s common for seemingly successful anti-corruption officials to be corrupt. There is a similar problem in the military, where two decades of anti-corruption efforts have not eliminated the problem. Between the corruption and shifting loyalties, it’s hard times for the party leadership.

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