The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership has focused special attention on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for at least the past three years to ascertain and ensure its “absolute loyalty” to the Party and willingness to be “unswervingly obedient” to the Party, the Central Military Commission and its Chairman Hu Jintao. The political upheaval caused by the incident involving the ‘princeling’ and rapidly rising former Politburo (PB) member, Bo Xilai, further impacted severely on the PLA. There was an upward spike in articles exhorting the PLA to be “absolutely loyal” and obedient to the Party and at least a dozen authoritative articles, including by senior officials, have been noticed since February this year.
The release on August 9, 2012, of the list of the PLA’s Delegates to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 18th Party Congress, however, confirms that the Party’s investigations are largely complete. It confirms too that preparations for the Congress are firmly on track.
Reports emanating from Beijing suggest that the 18th Party Congress will convene in Beijing around October 18. These appear to be substantiated by a Reuters report quoting organisers of the ‘11th China International Exhibition on Public Safety and Security’ as saying “we have received notice from the Big Events Management Office of the Beijing Public Security Bureau that the Communist Party’s 18th Congress will be held in the middle of October 2012.”
The authorities additionally requested “that all big public events in Beijing scheduled for October be rescheduled in order to fully safeguard security in the capital before, during and after the 18th Party Congress.” Meanwhile, security in Beijing has been intensified and provincial authorities instructed not to allow petitioners to travel to Beijing. Other reports claim that vigil along the borders, including with India, Nepal and Myanmar, has been enhanced. Reflecting the CCP’s current increased membership of 82 million, the 18th Party Congress will have 2,270 delegates in contrast to the 2,213 at the 17th Party Congress in 2007. This number will be augmented by representatives of other categories like non-communist parties, etc.
Analysis of the PLA’s list of 251 Delegates to the 18th Congress reveals a slight increase in the number of PLA Delegates from 249 at the 17th Party Congress in 2007, to 251 on this occasion. In 2007, the strength of PLA Delegates was ten per cent of the total number of 2,250 Delegates to the Party Congress. The People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF), incidentally, is sending 49 Delegates to the Congress, bringing the total from security forces to 300.
Following the political upheaval involving Bo Xilai, who had forged close ties with the PLA and especially the 14th Group Army and Chengdu Military Region, at least four or five central teams from the Party Discipline Inspection Committee specially investigated the latter two formations till early July this year. The PLA was separately already subjected to three successive year-long political and ideological education campaigns. The list of 251 PLA delegates to the 18th Party Congress now includes one person from the 14th Group Army and six from the Chengdu Military Region (MR). Notable inclusions are some prominent PLA officers who have been associated with Bo Xilai namely, General Zhang Haiyang, General Liu Yuan and General Zhang Youxia, implying that their political records are blemish-free. All three are, coincidentally, ‘princelings’ and considered likely to be promoted to the Central Military Commission (CMC).
Some promotions were effected just before the 17th Party Congress in which three officers, namely Wang Guosheng, Fang Fenghui and Zhao Keshi were beneficiaries of double promotions. Wang Guosheng and Zhao Keshi, who were Chiefs of Staff in the Lanzhou and Nanjing Military Regions, were promoted as Commanders of the Lanzhou and Nanjing Military Regions respectively. Fang Fenghui, who was Chief of Staff in the Guangzhou Military Region was appointed Commander of the prestigious and sensitive Beijing Military Region. At the time of his appointment he was the youngest Commander of a Military Region. Wang Guosheng does not figure in the current list of PLA Delegates to the 18th Party Congress. The list does, though, include Zhou Keshi, Fang Fenghui and the Commander of the Shenyang Military Region, Zhang Youxia. The latter two are assessed to be in the running for Central Military Commission (CMC)-level appointments at the upcoming Party Congress.
There has been steadily increasing emphasis on ensuring the political reliability of the PLA in the past few years. This has included posting Political Commissars from Platoon/Company level upwards, enlarging the role and powers of Political Commissars, encouraging growth of the CCP and Communist Youth League (CYL) in the PLA and, inducting the Party’s discipline and security apparatus into the PLA. These efforts have been buttressed by the spate of articles and commentaries exhorting the PLA to “absolutely obey” the CCP and be “unswervingly” guided by it.
Political reliability has now been reiterated as the pre-eminent criterion for PLA officers. The PLA’s powerful General Political Department (GPD) issued a set of guidelines late this August entitled: ’The Opinion on Strengthening the Assessment of Leading Cadres at and above the Regimental level’. These unequivocally stipulate that “to assess a cadre’s political character, it is necessary to put the political standard in the top position…”. Political reliability, it asserted, would be the determining criterion for promotions. This was seemingly underscored with the inclusion of 81 Political Commissars in the list of PLA Delegates to the 18th Party Congress. The PLA’s Delegates include at least nine identified ‘princelings’. All ten current members of the CMC are included, while sixteen Delegates are among those assessed as likely to be promoted to the CMC either as Members or Vice Chairmen. Proportional numerical balance appears to have been maintained with the majority of Delegates belonging to the PLA ground forces.
Despite the PLA’s publicised efforts to recruit ethnic minorities especially in Tibet and Xinjiang, there is a decline in the number of PLA Delegates representing ethnic minority nationalities. This year’s list of PLA Delegates to the 18th Party Congress includes only one Tibetan, two Manchus, two of the Hui nationality and one Tong nationality. Among the 249 PLA Delegates to the 17th Party Congress, there were seven representing ethnic minority nationalities, or 2.8 per cent. The current list of PLA Delegates includes nineteen female PLA personnel. The list of Delegates suggests that the PLA’s representation in the CCP’s Central Committee and Politburo is likely to remain unchanged.
The author is a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India