Willy Lam: People’s Liberation Army (PLA) generals’ influence on China’s diplomacy

Willy Lam wrote an article where he shared his insights on People’s Liberation Army (PLA) generals’ influence on China’s diplomacy.

Willy Lam

Military personnel largely exert influence on foreign and national security policies in two ways. The first is through junshi waijiao (“military diplomacy”), meaning officers in China’s labyrinthine defense establishment actively engage in activities ranging from boosting military-to-military contacts with foreign governments and defense forces to PLA staff joining international conferences or taking part in global peace-keeping missions. The second way for the top brass to weigh in on diplomacy is through offering advice to the top leadership—President Xi and members of the Politburo who have a diplomatic portfolio—in official and unofficial capacities. Generals sit on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) two highest-level diplomatic decision-making bodies: the Foreign Affairs Leading Small Group (FALSG) and the Central National Security Commission (CNSC). Senior PLA staff who are good friends of President Xi, who served as a junior secretary in the policy-setting Central Military Commission (CMC) from 1979 to 1982, also contribute to the nation’s national-security policies in informal conversations with the putative head of the Gang of Princelings (a reference to the offspring of Party elders).

Generals Support Xi’s “Strong Army” Dream

Compared to predecessors Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, Xi seems more ready to use military force to back up China’s global power projection. One of Xi’s first dictums on national security is that the Party-state-military apparatus “must ensure that the troops are ready when called upon and that they can fight effectively and win wars” (People’s Daily, August 7, 2014). He has repeatedly called upon the generals to “devote utmost effort to expanding and deepening preparations for military struggle,” repeating a common call since the early 1990s (China News Service, March 12, 2013; Xinhua, February 6, 2013). In an unprecedented show of loyalty to Xi’s military thinking last April, 18 senior generals published biaotai (“airing support”) articles in the Liberation Army Daily. The top brass summarized the commander-in-chief’s views on national security as “daring to brandish the sword and to deploy the sharpest sword” (Liberation Army Daily, April 2, 2014). Given growing expectations of military forces becoming a preeminent actor in realizing the country’s goals in diplomacy and national security, it seems logical that Xi should allow the generals a bigger voice in foreign affairs.

Indeed, the generals’ influence is felt in not only national security issues but also the overall reshaping of Chinese politics and civilization in accordance with the “Spirit of Xi Jinping” (see China Brief, March 6). While ruminating about the “Chinese Dream,” Xi often posits a “strong army” as a prerequisite for “the renaissance of the Chinese people” (Beijing Youth Daily, April 16, 2014). Or as princeling General Liu Yuan put it, “without a strong national defense, rich countries will become a fat sheep that is liable to be slaughtered” (Xinhua, March 16, 2013). Perhaps in light of the heavily nationalistic—and militaristic—component of the “Chinese Dream” mantra, princeling General Liu has been advocating a kind of “war culture” to be inculcated particularly among young Chinese. Liu argued in a controversial 2010 article entitled “Why We Need to Retool Our Views on Culture and History” that “war culture” had “crystallized the most time-honored and most critical intelligence of mankind.” “We should harbor a devout heart and a worshipper’s fealty toward war and the actors in warfare,” he said. “They are just too splendid, too great!” (Seeking Truth, September 1, 2010; People’s Daily, August 3, 2010). If actors of warfare are seen as saviors of China and custodians of the quintessence of Chinese civilization, the status of generals as decision-makers in foreign and national security policies will inevitably be enhanced.

Read the full article here…

Dr Willy Lam

With more than 30 years of experience in writing and researching about China, Willy Wo-Lap LAM is a recognized authority on areas including the Chinese Communist Party, public administration, foreign policy, the People’s Liberation Army, as well as the country’s economic and political reform. Dr Lam has worked in senior editorial positions in international media including Asiaweek newsmagazine, South China Morning Post, and the Asia-Pacific Headquarters of CNN.

Since early 2005, Dr Lam has been a Professor of China Studies at Akita International University, Japan (www.aiu.ac.jp). He is also an Adjunct Professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong (History Department & Master of Global Political Economy Program); and a Senior Fellow at Jamestown Foundation (www.jamestown.org), a leading foreign-policy think tank in Washington D.C.

Willy’s views on China are frequently sought by global media including CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, ABC, Bloomberg, Voice of America, and other major publications and electronic media. He has been awarded visiting fellowships by institutions including Columbia University, Washington University at St. Louis (U.S.), Nottingham University (Britain), and Murdoch University (Australia.)

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