China’s security concerns

The importance attached by China to domestic security has heightened in recent years.

Published: 04th March 2013 07:24 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th March 2013 07:24 AM   |  A+A-

The disturbed domestic security environment is causing serious concern to China’s new leadership. A number of factors, including domestic factional politics, have contributed to this. This was the backdrop to China’s 18th Party Congress held from November 8-14, 2013, and influenced high level security-related personnel appointments.

Among the factors contributing to widespread popular dissatisfaction is the high incidence of corruption, growing income inequality, worker lay-offs, rising prices, etc. For the first time ever some of these merited special mention in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary’s Work Report to the Congress. The depth of dissatisfaction was reinforced when China’s largest government think-tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), last year warned that the people are losing confidence in the government and that cadres are viewed as being in league with real estate businessmen. The number of mass protests also soared to 180,000 in 2011 which, according to some confidential estimates, could increase at between 8-12 per cent annually.

Greater resources have predictably been poured into domestic security. Significantly, and for the first time ever, the budgets for domestic security for the last two years have been higher than the national defence budgets!

Another worrying feature for China’s leadership is the apparently ebbing confidence of Chinese in their country and government.  A recent report of the Party’s anti-corruption watchdog body, the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC) now headed by Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) member Wang Qishan, was commented upon by the mainland Chinese weekly ‘Economic Observer’. It claimed that US $1 trillion, equivalent to 40 per cent of Britain’s annual gross domestic product, had been smuggled out of China illegally in 2012. While this figure is disputed by analysts, they nonetheless describe the flow of money as dramatic. Beijing University Professor Li Chengyan, suggested that about 10,000 officials had absconded from China with as much as US $100 billion. The CDIC disclosed that 1,100 government officials had fled China during last year’s national holidays in October and that 714 had been successful in getting completely away.

Separately, China’s International Emigration Report (2012), publicised by China’s official news agency Xinhua in January 2013, revealed that in China 27 per cent of business owners with personal assets of more than 1 billion yuan (US $160 million) have emigrated while 47 per cent are considering emigration. It added that in the past three years at least 17 billion yuan (US $2.7 billion) of capital has flown abroad. 

The importance attached to domestic security has heightened in recent years as Beijing assesses that the international environment surrounding China is becoming adverse. An article authored by the Director of Sichuan’s Provincial Public Security Department reflected the thinking of senior echelon Chinese Communist cadres. He wrote in ‘Gong’an Yanjiu’ that: ‘hostile foreign and domestic forces manipulate, incite speculation about, and directly provoke contradictions within our people in increasingly prominent ways’. Stating that China’s reform and development have provided suitable conditions for hostile elements to meddle, he cited as examples the issues of “rights protection” and judicial cases. In conclusion, the Director of Sichuan’s Public Security asserted that an increasingly powerful China creates great unease for hostile foreign forces, who are present inside and outside China, and who are doing their utmost to spread arson, vandalism and disaffection.

The political disruption caused by the now ousted Politburo member of impeccable ‘Red lineage’, Bo Xilai, had a major impact on the CCP. The Bo Xilai incident, which shook and stunned the CCP, prompted its leadership to scrutinise the political reliability and loyalty of cadres. The manner in which Wang Lijun, Chief of the Public Security Bureau of the centrally administered Chongqing Municipality, easily gained access to the US Consulate in Chengdu in his failed bid to defect to the US, rang alarm bells in Beijing. It showed that even a member of the Party’s nomenklatura of the rank of a central Vice Minister was susceptible to the blandishments of a foreign intelligence organisation. The susceptibility of the country’s public security apparatus to penetration was again highlighted in the escape to the US Embassy in Beijing of the blind dissident activist Chen Guangchen.

The Party’s reaction to these developments was clearly reflected in the selection of Delegates to the 18th Party Congress and selection of members to the 18th Central Committee (CC), Politburo (PB) and the reduced Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC). The declared emphasis was on the loyalty and political reliability of cadres. There is not one member of China’s ethnic minority nationalities in the PB or PBSC.  Special attention was focused on the country’s public security apparatus and approximately 3,000 public security cadres were summoned to Beijing for ‘political re-education’. The apparent sympathy of PBSC member and Security Czar, Zhou Yongkang, for Bo Xilai was an additional complication. This has led to downgrading of the position of Chairman of the Party’s apex security body — the Central Politics and Law Commission. With the retirement of Zhou Yongkang at the 18th Party Congress, the Minister of Public Security, Meng Jianzhu who was elevated to the PB, was appointed Chairman of the Central Politics and Law Commission. The downgrading of the position of Chairman of the Central Politics and Law Commission implies that Meng Jianzhu will henceforth report directly to Party Chief Xi Jinping, who will exercise tighter control over the security and intelligence apparatus.

The appointment earlier in February of former Guangxi Communist Party Secretary, Guo Shengkun as Minister of Public Security, also hints at further dilution of the authority of the Minister of Public Security and enhancement of the Party Chief’s authority and control over the security apparatus. While Guo Shengkun lacks direct experience of security work  and knowledge of law, he nonetheless appears well-placed to project the ‘softer’ face of the CCP.

The author is a Member of the National Security Advisory Board and former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.

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