Chinese Military at Heart of Asia Pivot Policy "rotten to the core"?

Xi Jinping needs the People's Liberation Army as a domestic political tool


courtesy china

Xi Jinping became General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party the same day he became the chairman of the Central Military Commission, John Gernault points out in a piece in the May/June "Power" issue of Foreign  Policy that shows a different side of the Chinese military than the one used to explain America's own military "Asia pivot." First the prevailing perception:

[The U.S. Pacific Fleet's chief intelligence officer James Fanell]  spelled out in rare detail the reasons the United States is shifting 60 percent of its naval assets -- including its most advanced capabilities -- to the Pacific. He was blunt: The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is focused on war, and it is expanding into the "blue waters" explicitly to counter the U.S. Pacific Fleet. "I can tell you, as the fleet intelligence officer, the PLA Navy is going to sea to learn how to do naval warfare," he said [in a conference]. "My assessment is the PLA Navy has become a very capable fighting force."

Xi is not so sure, and he needs the PLA to consolidate power at home. Gernault writes:

Despite the hype, however, high-ranking insiders have come forward to say the Chinese military is rotten to the core. Formal hierarchies are trumped by personal patronage, coordination between branches is minimal, and corruption is so pervasive that senior positions are sold to the highest bidders while weapons funding is siphoned into private pockets. "Corruption has become extremely institutionalized and significant," says Tai Ming Cheung, director of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California/San Diego. "It makes it much more difficult to develop, produce, and field the weapons systems required to achieve world-class power projection."

It's not just corruption. More than three decades of peace, a booming economy, and an opaque administrative system have taken their toll as well, not to mention that the PLA is one of the world's largest bureaucracies -- and behaves accordingly.

In communist China, there's a dual command structure, a military hierarchy subordinate to a parallel party one. After all, as Gernault writes, the PLA was formed as a tool of the Communist party that started fighting in China in 1927 and didn't stop till Korea more than two decades later. As a veteran of the party side of the PLA, the new Chinese president intends to use the army that way. Gernault relates:

At the same time, another top-level document emerged: a speech delivered in December by Xi himself, in which he gave thundering confirmation that the PLA's primary function is to defend the regime, not China. This was the lesson learned from the Soviet Union's collapse, he said. "In the Soviet Union, where the military was depoliticized, separated from the party, and nationalized, the party was disarmed," Xi warned, according to an extract of his speech that was published by journalist Gao Yu and broadly corroborated by other sources. "A few people tried to save the Soviet Union; they seized Gorbachev, but within days it was turned around again because they didn't have the instruments to exert power." Nobody in the vast Soviet Communist Party, Xi averred, "was man enough to stand up and resist."

not our backyard
U.S. Energy Information Administration

The confrontation with Japan over the uninhabited but potentially resource rich Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands [marked yellow on map right] was an opportunity for Xi to fan nationalist fervor but also, as Gernault relates from a family friend of Xi's, a chance to "to sort the horses from the mules" by "walk[ing] them around the yard." What it looked like:

For the remaining three months of 2012, roughly once each day, a Chinese government plane flew southeast toward the Japanese-administered islands. With equal regularity, when the plane crossed an "identification" line nearly 100 miles east of the Chinese mainland, Japan tried and failed to make radio contact and then scrambled F-15 Eagle fighters from its Air Self-Defense Force. The Chinese planes would each veer east at about the 28th parallel and then north, out of harm's way, without crossing into Japanese-controlled airspace or encountering approaching Japanese fighters, according to Western defense officials. That's the way it happened on 91 occasions between October and December, according to Japan's Defense Ministry.

But on Dec. 13, the 75th anniversary of the Nanjing massacre and a day after Chinese media reported that Xi had called for "real combat" awareness during a three-day tour of a PLA warship and live-fire tank drills, a low-flying China Marine Surveillance Y-12 twin-propeller plane crossed the 28th parallel. It kept flying southeast and penetrated Japanese airspace -- the first such episode since Japan began monitoring half a century ago -- and took a snapshot of the largest of the disputed islands out of its left window, a photo that was published widely in the Chinese state media the following day.

But being ready for war means something else for Xi too:

What if the recent drums of war are a sign of China's weakness and not its impressive new strength? "When Xi tells his troops to be ready for war, it's really an admission that they're in disarray," says the [NATO country] defense attaché [in Beijing]. "He's saying, 'You guys are drunk, fat, and happy, siphoning off all the money into private accounts, and you need to get real.'"

And into this America "pivots." Read the rest of the article here, and watch Gernault explain to the Chinese state-owned Xinhua news agency how he cultivates sources in China (of which there are several in the article) here.

NEXT: US Calls for Amnesty for Jailed American in North Korea

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  1. Additional factoid: China has invaded India (just for hell of it) it appears.

    They finally reached their destination and pitched a tent in the barren Depsang Valley in the Ladakh region, a symbolic claim of sovereignty deep inside Indian-held territory. So stealthy was the operation that India did not discover the incursion until a day later, Indian officials said.

  2. Shhh.

    If you don't have a "Major Threat", you don't need 12 Carrier Battle groups.

    What would all those Admirals do then? You don't want them to retire, do you?

    1. Actually we only have ten now. Though one is being built.

      1. We have 11 CSG's

        5 east coast, 5 west coast, and one in Japan.

    2. Actually, CBG's don't exist anymore - now they're "Carrier Strike Groups"

      Navy loves to change the name of its formations every 10ish years or so - usually when the new group of guys become admirals and the current group of A's retire.

      1. Partially becaue this is the change in focus from using carrier groups in naval warfare (ie ships fighting ships) to using them primaril to hit at land targets.

        And of course you can't possibly let such a shift go unremarked or you're losing a huge PR opportunity to show everyone how smart you are in adapating tactics to new warfare paradigms!

  3. "Hello China..... That's right.... all the tea."

  4. "Formal hierarchies are trumped by personal patronage, coordination between branches is minimal, and corruption is so pervasive that senior positions are sold to the highest bidders while weapons funding is siphoned into private pockets."

    Jeez. I'd never have expected that from a communist military.

    My POV? The navy will tout the Chinese capabilities for the same reason presidents never shut up about Iran and the same reason North Korea spouts nonsense about a 'sea of fire!' all the time. People need boogeymen in order to get a) funding, and b) distract people from their real problems.

    I have no doubt that they have designs to establish supremacy in the region; however, I don't see them actively picking fights with anyone who they can't ass-kick with ease.

    re: China fucking with india = please refer to the excellent historical commentary of the War Nerd

    Worth a read.

    1. Those who are old enough and were paying attention, remember how the Pentagon constantly played up the capacity of the old Soviet Union. You always have to take their assessments with a grain of salt.

      And it should have been obvious that China is a paper tiger. It is very hard to have an effective military without an effective junior officer and NCO corps. And it is almost impossible to have that without those people having a lot of personal initiative. And totalitarian regimes tend not to foster that.

      The Germans were the only such regime that ever produced a truly effective military. Sorry but the Soviets in WWII were more about numbers and the total disregard for casualties than effectiveness. And most of that was due to the left over German Imperial military culture and the fact that the Nazis had only had a few years to fuck it up before the war broke out.

      1. Guderian's writings on the Eastern Front are particularly enlightening in this regard.

        IIRC, he was the author of the phrase "The Wehrmacht choked to death on Russian blood."


        Another enlightening fact about the Soviet Army is the fact that only the Soviets had large numbers of their men agree to fight for the Germans ("Vlasov Men").

        1. Had the Nazis not been insane, they would have easily won the war in Russia because the Ukrainians and Belarus hated the Communists and were ready to view the Germans as liberators. That is until the Germans got there and started shooting people. Had they been anything but genocidal maniacs and had anything approaching a moral occupation plan, they would have had hundreds of thousands of Russians fighting for them.

          1. If they hadn't been insane, they would have waited until they controlled the Middle East and India, which were literally there for the taking, before fighting their Russian allies in the first place.

      2. I don't like the PRC but calling it totalitarian in 2013 is not really correct. There are organizations in China outside of direct state control (though obviously the govt could squash them anytime they want). If you doubt the personal initiative of the average Chinese, a trip to the Great Wall where any white person is constantly chased around by micro-entrepreneurs hawking books, hats, teabags, etc should disabuse you of that notion.

        1. I would call any system where you can go to jail for purely political purposes, a totalitarian system, as least with regard to the kind of effects I am talking about. And the PRC Army was built when China was one of the worst totalitarian regimes in history. It is doubtful that an institution as structured as a military would have recovered from that in even 30 years.

          1. I had this dispute with some folks here yesterday. You're describing authoritarianism, which is also bad but not as bad as totalitarianism, where the state controls all organized activity within its borders. Blurring the definition of totalitarianism makes it a less useful concept.

            But that's an argument over words. My larger point is that the PRC is legitimately scary.

            1. No it is not. They are a generation behind our military. We would slaughter them. They are only scary insofar as they could launch nukes. But other than that, not so much.

              1. I'm not talking about them invading California, I'm talking about them bloodying up their neighbors, who are you know kind of important to our interests.

              2. Exactly. The PRA is not an experienced fighting machine in the way that the Israeli or even American Army is.

                Really capable commanders do not do well in bureaucratic armies untested in battle. Skill in navigating bureaucracy and gaining promotion/influence does not usually correlate with tactical or strategic competence.

                1. China got its ass kicked by Vietnam. Not exactly scary.

        2. I gather you consider the PRC insufficiently totalitarian.

  5. Shit China isn't the enemy....just a competitor.

    We're the enemy!

  6. Seriously?

    I'm as anti-war as they get, but what the fuck. Maybe the PRC is a paper dragon, but maybe it isn't. You want to take a chance at losing access to the Pacific Rim?

    Reminds me of all the dunderheads saying we should ignore KJU's saber rattling because he's "probably" just using it for internal propaganda to his generals and "probably" can't really hit Japan with his new fissile toys. Fuck that. Take his word for it and wipe him off the map before that "probably" becomes a "not".

    1. "Take his word for it and wipe him off the map before that "probably" becomes a "not"."

      Seriously? Have you thought through the consequences of that decision?

      1. Yes and yes.

        1. Start a war that would result in the deaths of millions of Koreans (North and South) and cause a crisis with China, because someday maybe they might have the capacity and willingness to attack us? Sound logic

          1. KJU is the one who is starting the war, not America. America is always the victim.

            1. Well if you want to get technical, the war never ended. You know what the fuck I mean. Don't pretend Tulpa's proposal isn't an escalation to major hostilities. And I never said anything about "America" starting a war. America is not synonymous with "the US government" and the US government sure as hell is not always the victim.

        2. You're the one saying China is so dangerous and then you want to go and start a war with them and risk losing access to the Pacific Rim?

    2. So you think the Chinese would deny us access to the entire Pacific Rim? For what purpose? You do realize something like a hundred million Chinese would be out of work overnight if the Chinese lost access to the US markets?

      I am all for not losing wars either. But at the same time, you do have to be realistic. And wiping Kim Jong Un off the map in anything but a massive and surprise nuclear attack would entail the deaths of about a million South Koreans. So I would vote no on doing that. But that is just me.

      1. PRC has diversified its export markets; probably a good idea anyway considering the US is about to tank economically again, and they don't profit much from piles of green Bernanke Poop. But it also ties their hands less if they want to get frisky in the Rim.

        There are ways around that. You don't attack a scorpion's head first, you cut off its tail.

        Strike first at the artillery near Seoul; you probably won't get all of it so there will be some casualties in Seoul, but that's life. Thank our testicle-free administrations for the past 50 years for that development.

        The alternative is kicking the can down the road until the God-Piglet really does have nuclear missile capability. That would be an even bigger pickle.

        1. everything except the first paragraph is in regard to the Norks....

        2. Yeah sure that is life. Lets start a war and not given them a vote.

          Wow just wow.

          1. The SK have had a vote for decades. They chose to keep their capital close to the world's most dangerous border, pursue an asinine sunshine policy with the NK belligerents, and otherwise allow the NK to exist. This is largely their fault.

            1. Do you really think the USG hasn't had any influence in the South Korean government's policies towards the North? Any impact on a decision to go to war (ignoring the other risks and consequences of such a decision)? And regardless of where their capital is, plenty of South Koreans would be affected by Tulpa's plan

    3. Ah. So you do approve of the Bush "Pre-emptive War" doctrine.

      1. You do realize that KJU has denounced the 1954 armistice and declared war on us, don't you?

        1. I'm quivering in my boots as I sit here typing this comment

        2. Leaving aside John's caveat re South Korea, do you consider it moral to kill tens of thousands of North Koreans just because they are subject to a crazy-ass buffoon?

          1. "tens of thousands"

            That's a pretty generous underestimate in the scenario we're talking about

            1. Admittedly lowball, cause you are going to need nukes to get KJU and his cadre in their deep bunkers.

          2. Not our concern.

            1. If you are killing them, it is your concern.

              1. Nope. Doing what is reasonably necessary to protect the rights of Americans is the only legit USG concern.

                1. I think we have very different definitions of "reasonably necessary." And governments do have to take into account the rights of all individuals in their actions. An individual doesn't have the right to carelessly kill random bystanders when defending themselves against an attacker. Obviously war is messy, and innocent people will die, but that's all the more reason to view it with extreme caution, and is certainly not a reason to just completely ignore the impact it would have on people in other countries (not to mention the geopolitical ramifications)

                  1. Better to assume the threat is real and to plan accordingly than to ignore everything and find a decade from now that the PLA controls half the Pacific.

                    1. How is that relevant to Tulpa's proposal go to war with North Korea?

  7. OK wow, that dude knows whats going on man.

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