Party Leader Tightens Grip on Military in China

March 19, 2014 Updated: March 19, 2014

The head of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, has set up a new committee in charge of “deepening military reform,” and made himself the head of it. 

The committee is added to a long list of other top-level groups that Xi is in charge of, including those on economic reform, Internet security, and a new national security commission.

Precise goals for the new body have not yet been announced in the Chinese press, but the news is a demonstration of Xi’s continued consolidation of power in the Communist Party. Control of the military has always been a key plank of power in communist China

Xi Jinping has been the paramount leader of the Chinese regime since March 2013, when he assumed the title of chairman of the People’s Republic of China. But real power resides in his role as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, and chairman of the Central Military Commission, the existing Party body that oversees military affairs. Xi was given power over the Military Commission directly in late 2012 when he assumed his Party leadership post. The former Party chief, Hu Jintao, relinquished military command, rather than hold onto it for another two years as the previous leader, Jiang Zemin, had insisted on doing in 2002.

According to Jin Jing, an analyst of the Chinese military, Xi’s new committee will continue his transition to gaining power over the military system. Given that Jiang Zemin still exerted behind-the-scenes control throughout Hu Jintao’s tenure, the move is also intended to more quickly wrest final control.

In his first speech as head of the new military reform committee, Xi emphasized that Party cadres “must unite their thoughts and actions under the decisions of Party Central and the Central Military Commission.” 

He added, “We must use the goal of a strong military as the center of reform,” in remarks that were paraphrased by Xinhua, the regime’s official mouthpiece. The development of a strong military was said to be an “advantage” of the system of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” the term the Communist Party gives to its dominance of China. “Reform is to better enhance the absolute leadership over the military,” Xi said. 

The direction of China’s military development is a concern to the United States and China’s neighboring countries that worry about potentially expansionist intentions. The Chinese Communist Party has claimed as its own territory vast swathes of the South China Sea, areas that are now mostly international waters.

The Chinese military keeps over 1,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan, a neighboring democracy that the Chinese communists claims as part of China, and many of the Chinese military modernization efforts appear to be aimed at countering U.S. military capabilities. These include the vaunted “carrier killer” line of mid-range intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are aimed to deny the United States access to the waters near China, possibly to prevent the U.S. military from aiding Taiwan in the event of an emergency. 

Recently, Chinese communist leaders announced another major boost to military spending, increasing the annual budget by 12.2 percent, to $131 billion. This led to more murmurs of concern from neighboring countries. Such spending increases have also kindled fears of an arms race in Asia, as other nations scramble to keep up with China’s military buildup.