The military’s highest decision-making body, the CMC (Central Military Commission), is technically a department of the CCP Central Committee. The CMC Chairman is a civilian, usually serving concurrently as the General Secretary of the CCP (Comunist Party of China) and President of China. Following the 19th Party Congress, the CMC consists of two vice chairs, the chiefs of the Joint Staff and Political Work Departments, the head of the Discipline Inspection Commission, and the Minister of National Defense.
Members of the CCP Central Military Commission
Chairman Xi Jinping’s appointment as Party General Secretary and CMC Chairman in 2012 and his selection as President in the spring of 2013 represented the first simultaneous transfer of all three of China’s top positions to an incoming leader in recent decades. Xi was reappointed to his Party positions at the 19th Party Congress and was reappointed president in spring 2018 at the National People’s Congress. The same meeting also granted approval to remove presidential term limits, allowing Xi to potentially remain president beyond his second term. In 2016, Xi was announced as the commander-in-chief of the CMC’s Joint Operations Command Center and was named “core” leader of the CCP Central Committee. Prior to becoming CMC Chairman, Xi served as the CMC’s only civilian Vice Chairman under Hu Jintao. Xi’s father was an important military figure during China’s communist revolution and was a Politburo member in the 1980s. The younger Xi served as an aide to a defense minister early in his career and had regular interactions with the PLA as a provincial Party official. In meetings with U.S. officials, Xi has emphasized improving military-to-military relations between China and the United States.
Vice Chairman Xu Qiliang is the first career air force officer to be appointed China’s top uniformed official. Xu is a public advocate for reform and guides the effort as a deputy secretary of the CMC’s reform leading group. Xu previously served on the CMC as the PLAAF commander, where he oversaw rapid force modernization and expanded the air force’s foreign engagement. He may have crossed paths with Xi Jinping early in his career, when both men served in Fujian Province. Xu was the first PLAAF officer to serve as deputy chief of the General Staff Department since the Cultural Revolution period, and – at 54 years of age at the time – the youngest in PLA history. Xu is serving a third term as a CMC member.
Vice Chairman Zhang Youxia is China’s second-most senior officer and former head of the Equipment Development Department. Zhang gained rare experience as a combat commander during China’s brief war with Vietnam in 1979. Zhang formerly commanded the Shenyang Military Region, which shared a border with North Korea and Russia. Zhang is one of China’s military “princelings.”
His father, a well-known military figure in China, served with Xi Jinping’s father at the close of China’s Civil War in 1949. Zhang is currently serving his second term on the CMC.
Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe was appointed Minister of National Defense at the National People’s Congress in March 2018. The Minister of National Defense is the PLA’s third-most senior officer and manages its relationship with state bureaucracies and foreign militaries. Unlike the U.S. Secretary of Defense, he is not part of the chain of command and his primary policy influence is derived from membership in the CMC. Wei served in multiple missile bases across different military regions and held top posts in the headquarters of the former PLA Second Artillery Force, the PLA Rocket Force’s predecessor, before being promoted in late 2010 to Deputy Chief of the General Staff – the first officer from the Second Artillery to do so. Wei most recently was the PLARF commander. Wei is serving a second term as a CMC member.
Joint Staff Department Chief Li Zuocheng oversees PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) operations, a narrowing of the wider responsibilities held by the former General Staff Department prior to reforms initiated in 2015. Li is one of few remaining active duty PLA officers with combat experience and is recognized as a combat hero for his service in China’s border war with Vietnam. He was also the first Army commander after the PLA Army became a separate service in 2015. Li previously commanded the Chengdu Military Region, which was responsible for the sensitive area of Tibet.
Political Work Department Director Miao Hua oversees the PLA’s political work, including propaganda, organization, and education. Miao is a former Army officer who switched services to the Navy in December 2014 when he became political commissar of the PLA Navy. Miao may have ties to Xi from his time serving in the 31st Group Army in Fujian Province, when his career overlapped with Xi’s. Miao participated as the PLA Navy political commissar during the Navy’s OBOR cruise conducted in mid-2017.
Discipline Inspection Commission Secretary Zhang Shengmin oversees the highest-level organization responsible for investigating military violations of Party discipline. Zhang is also a deputy secretary and third ranking member on the standing committee of the Party’s Discipline Inspection Commission. Zhang’s appointments indicate the anticorruption campaign will receive a higher profile in the military going forward. Shortly after his appointment to the CMC, Zhang was promoted to the rank of general, the highest rank in the Chinese military.
MILITARY STRATEGY AND DOCTRINE
> China’s leaders continue to emphasize developing a military that can fight and win.
> In 2018, China published a new Outline of Training and Evaluation that emphasized realistic and joint training across all warfare domains, and covered missions and tasks aimed at “strong military opponents.”
> China’s growing overseas interests have increasingly propelled the PLA to think about how it will operate beyond China’s borders and immediate periphery.
> China typically publishes a white paper on its military strategy every two years, but has not released one since 2015.
China’s military strategy, as outlined in its 2015 defense white paper China’s Military Strategy and further delineated in the latest iteration of the PLA National Defense University’s Science of Strategy , is to build strong, combat-effective armed forces capable of winning regional conflicts and employing integrated, real-time C2 networks. Throughout 2018, China’s leaders stressed these tenets with a particular emphasis on developing a military that can fight and win.
> The 2015 defense white paper also echoed themes from previous publications, reflecting a growing emphasis on the importance of the maritime domain, the PLA Air Force’s shift towards offensive operations, the PLA Army’s long-distance mobility operations, and the need for superiority in the information domain, including through space and cyber operations. Typically released every two years, China did not release a new defense white paper in 2017 or 2018.
> In 2018, the PLA promulgated a new Outline of Military Training and Evaluation that emphasized realistic and joint training across all warfare domains, addressed changes in the PLA following recent military reforms, incorporated a global perspective, and covered missions and tasks aimed at “strong military opponents.” The new outline also implemented standards for training that rely on the experiences of foreign militaries and absorbs the methods those militaries use.
The PLA is pursuing an ambitious modernization program that aligns with China’s two centenary goals. China’s military leaders want to achieve mechanization and make “major progress” toward informatization by 2020, ahead of the first centenary goal. The concept of “informatization” figures prominently in PLA writings and is roughly analogous to the U.S. military’s concept of “net-centric” capability: a force’s ability to use advanced information technology and communications systems to gain operational advantage over an adversary. PLA writings highlight the benefit of near real-time shared awareness of the battlefield in enabling quick, unified effort to seize tactical opportunities. They also seek to complete military modernization by 2035 and become a “world-class” military by the second centenary goal of 2049. Although China has not defined what that means, some observers have interpreted it as meaning developing capabilities on par with other global militaries, especially the United States.
Military Strategic Guidelines. In 2015, China’s leadership directed the PLA to be capable of fighting and winning “informatized local wars” with an elevated emphasis on “maritime military struggle,” adjusting its guidance on the type of war the PLA should be prepared to fight. China promulgated this revision through its “military strategic
guidelines,” the top-level directives derived from China’s military strategy that prescribe concepts, assess threats, and set priorities for planning, force posture, and modernization. This update indicates China expects significant elements of a modern conflict to occur at sea.
> China’s leadership has adjusted its national military strategic guidelines about how to fight local wars two other times since the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1993, Jiang Zemin directed the PLA to prepare for local war under modern, high-tech conditions after observing U.S. military operations in the Gulf War. In 2004, Hu Jintao ordered the military to focus on winning “local war under informatized conditions.”
> Taiwan persistently remains the PLA’s main “strategic direction,” one of the geographic areas the leadership identifies as having strategic importance, in authoritative military publications. Other strategic directions include the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and China’s borders with India and North Korea. PLA reforms have oriented each new theater command toward a specific strategic direction.
> In 2015, China’s military strategy outlined eight “strategic tasks,” or types of missions the PLA must be ready to execute: safeguard the sovereignty of China’s territory; safeguard national unification; safeguard China’s interests in new domains such as space and cyberspace; maintain strategic deterrence; participate in international security cooperation; maintain China’s political security and social stability; and conduct emergency rescue, disaster relief, and “rights and interest protection” missions.
Active Defense. China characterizes its military strategy as one of “active defense,” a concept it describes as strategically defensive but operationally offensive. It is rooted in a commitment not to initiate armed conflict, but to respond robustly if an adversary challenges China’s national unity, territorial sovereignty, or interests. According to this concept, China may conduct defensive counterattacks by responding to an attack or striking pre-emptively to disrupt an adversary’s preparations to attack. The PLA interprets active defense to include both de-escalation and seizing the initiative. Active defense is enshrined in the 2015 National Security Law and is included in the PLA’s major strategy documents. President Xi’s speech during the PLA’s 90th anniversary parade in 2017 further highlighted that China would never conduct “invasion and expansion,” but also would never permit “any piece of Chinese territory” to separate from China.
Coercive Approach. As part of its “active defense” strategy, China’s leaders use tactics short of armed conflict to pursue China’s strategic objectives. Activities are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking armed conflict with the United States, its allies and partners, or others in the Indo-Pacific region. These tactics are particularly evident in China’s pursuit of its territorial and maritime claims in the South and East China Seas as well as along its border with India and Bhutan. In recent years, the PLA has also increased patrols around and near Taiwan using bomber, fighter, and surveillance aircraft to signal Taiwan. China additionally employs nonmilitary tools coercively, including economic tools during periods of political tensions with countries that China accuses of harming its national interests. After Australia’s public debate on Chinese influence in Australian politics, China delayed customs approval for Australian beef and wine imports in early 2018. China’s consulate in Sydney also warned Chinese students that studying in Australia was dangerous, and more than 20 Chinese school visits to Australia were cancelled.
Growing Global Presence. As China’s overseas interests have grown over the past two decades, they have increasingly propelled the PLA to think about how it will operate beyond China’s borders and its immediate periphery. In 2004, one of the new historic missions given to the PLA by then-Chinese President Hu Jintao was to support China’s overseas interests and diplomacy. The PLAN’s evolving focus – from “offshore waters defense” to a mix of “offshore waters defense” and “open seas protection” – reflects the high command’s expanding interest in a wider operational reach. China’s military strategy and ongoing PLA reform reflect the abandonment of its historic focus on control of geography through the use of expanding defensive perimeters in favor of a maritime strategy to defend interests abroad. Similarly, doctrinal references to a “forward edge defense” that would move potential conflicts far from China’s territory suggest PLA strategists envision an increasing role for the PLA overseas.
A more robust overseas logistics and basing infrastructure would allow China to project and sustain military power at greater distances. China’s leaders may assess that a mixture of military logistics models, including preferred access to overseas commercial ports and a limited number of exclusive PLA logistics facilities, probably collocated with commercial ports, most closely aligns with China’s overseas military logistics needs. In August 2017, China officially opened a military base in Djibouti, its first overseas military base. Chinese officials claim that the base – which they describe as a logistics facility – will support China’s anti-piracy operations in the Horn of Africa and its UN peacekeeping deployments. China will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries. China’s overseas military basing will be constrained by the willingness of potential host countries to support a PLA presence. International press reporting in 2018 indicated that China sought to expand its military basing and access in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the western Pacific.
Stability and Security Operations. The PLA continues to emphasize the importance of stability and security operations, stressing training and equipment enhancements to improve force capabilities for these missions. These operations encompass emergency response, counterterrorism, international rescue, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR), peacekeeping operations (PKO), and various other security tasks falling into the category of military operations other than war (MOOTW). In recent years, the PLA has embraced MOOTW by revising doctrine and teaching materials and incorporating MOOTW into its readiness and modernization plans. In 2018, the PLA focused on regional counterterrorism cooperation in the midst of China’s mass detention in Xinjiang of more than one million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslims in government camps, where their daily activities are restricted and heavily monitored.
> In a speech during the 8th Beijing Xiangshan Forum, Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe highlighted China’s promotion of the “China-Afghanistan-Pakistan-Tajikistan” four-country counterterrorism cooperation mechanism known as the Quadrilateral
Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism. In 2018, China engaged in counterterrorism exercises with Cambodia, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia.
> China also tasks the PAP with emergency response and counterterrorism operations, with PAP forces training for these missions through 2018.
Anticorruption Campaign. The CCP continued its effort to root out corruption in the armed forces in 2018. In March 2018, the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, endorsed the 19th Party Congress decision in fall 2017 to elevate the first secretary of the Discipline Inspection Commission, General Zhang Shengmin, to the CMC, the military’s highest decision-making body and technically a department of the CCP Central Committee. At the same March meeting, the National People’s Congress ratified the newly established National Supervisory Commission, which consolidates the various Chinese anticorruption agencies under a single entity. The National Supervisory Commission will bridge Party and state efforts to remove corruption, giving wider latitude to pursue non-Party government officials and drawing the PLA further under centralized civilian anticorruption control. In October 2018, two former CMC members detained in 2017 for corruption, Fang Fenghui and the deceased Zhang Yang, were expelled from the CCP.
Anticorruption investigations in the PLA are a component of a Party-wide effort that President Xi strengthened and accelerated shortly after taking office, with the stated goal of safeguarding the legitimacy of the CCP, rooting out corruption, improving governance, and strengthening central control. In the six years since the anticorruption campaign intensified under Xi Jinping, more than 13,000 PLA officers, including 100 generals, have been punished for corruption. Military discipline inspectors have targeted individual power networks and occupational specialties historically prone to corruption, such as officers connected to disgraced former CMC Vice Chairmen Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong and, more recently, to Fang Fenghui and Zhang Yang. On the anniversary of the PLA’s founding in August 2018, the CMC issued two regulations codifying oversight responsibilities for Party committees and discipline inspection commissions to strengthen intra-Party supervision and accountability.
Data Source: Annual Report to Congress- Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China