There is concern that elements within China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which in theory is meant to be totally subservient to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), may have gone rogue, according to Ankit Panda at The Diplomat.
The sign of a possible rift between the military and the CCP became apparent last week when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited India last week in an effort to improve relations and encourage bilateral economic ties. During the visit, Chinese soldiers crossed into a disputed border region leading to a military standoff between the two nations by Kashmir.
After returning to China, Xi gave the Chinese military a dressing down during a speech in which the chiefs of staff of the PLA were present. In the speech Xi emphasised how the military must have “absolute loyalty and firm faith in the Communist Party of China.”
[I]t seems highly likely that PLA leaders have at times acted without the consent of the Communist Party’s senior leadership and, more critically, against the strategic vision of that same leadership … All we know is that Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and the chairman of the Central Military Commission, felt it necessary to issue a statement to the People’s Liberation Army that, in effect, says “Please listen to me.”
Xi is considered to be one of the strongest statesman China has seen since Mao. During his tenure so far, Xi has presided over far reaching probes against corruption that have ensnared the former second-in-command of the PLA as well as the retired head of the nation’s security apparatus. Any question of elements of the military going rogue would be a severe challenge to his authority.
Earlier this year, military generals published pledges of support for Xi in state newspapers. Xi has also overseen a reshuffling of the PLA since he came to power, including the placement of ned leaders for the Navy, Air Force, Second Artillery, and the seven military regions.
All of this gives the Chinese military a veneer of loyalty to the Xi. This makes the likelihood of a segment of the Chinese military going rogue seem faint. Instead, as Panda notes, Xi may be alluding to rogue elements of the military in an effort to give the central government some degree of “plausible deniability” in the future.
China has simmering border disputes with the majority of its neighbours. With India, China has been slowly pushing into its territory for years as a sort of “salami slicing” policy in an effort to seize as much territory without ever giving India a cause to declare war.
Simultaneously, China is locked in a border dispute with Japan while also advancing claims for the South China Sea that pits it against the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. A professor at one of China’s military universities predicted that these maritime disputes could lead to World War III.
China’s slow push into neighbouring territories may eventually lead to a military pushback from neighbouring countries. By maintaining the illusion that a segment of its military has gone rogue, China could, with questionable success, extricate itself from a military entanglement that it may not have particularly wanted or even predicted.
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