Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who is the Boss?

Who is the Boss for defense matters in China? The Chairman of the Central Military Commission or some obscure generals?
It is difficult to say.  The research paper mentioned by The Financial Times (Civil-Military Relations in China: Assessing the PLA’s Role in Elite Politics) is inconclusive.
Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense believes that there is a split in the Chinese hierarchy: “Over the last several years we have seen some signs of ... a disconnect be­tween the military and the civilian leadership.”
After his visit to Beijing, he pointed to “pretty clear indications that civilian leaders were un­aware of the flight test of the J-20 stealth fighter, which was widely seen as an anti-US signal". gates had just arrived in China. Some generals wanted to make a point?
It is difficult to say, but a few days before the State visit of President Hu Jintao to the United States, it has serious implications: will President Obama speak to the real Boss of the Middle Kingdom or a proxy President (and Party General Secretary)?
Personally, I prefer to believe in the 'good cop-bad cop' theory.
While the Central leadership shows its willingness to be flexible and sort out the genuine issues between the United States and China, at the same a veiled warning is issued to Superpower No 1: China can't be ignored anymore. 
It reminds me of Kissinger's visit to China in October 1971. The Secreatry of State later recalled: "Our move from the airport to the Guest House (the same one which we stayed in before, incidentally) was similarly chilly. The motorcade skirted the city over roads which were closed to normal traffic and heavily guarded; the sky seemed grey and threatening. We discovered upon entering our rooms in the Guest House that each of them contained an English-language propaganda bulletin carrying an appeal on the cover for the people of the world to “overthrow the American imperialists and their running dogs.” I had a member of my staff hand the one in my room back to a PRC protocol officer with the remark that it must have been put there by accident."
Later, Zhou Enlai explained that it was old slogans which were to be removed (they had been left 'by mistake'). But the message had been delivered.

Beijing faces PLA schism, warns Gates
By Kathrin Hille in Beijing and Daniel Dombey in Tokyo
The Financial Times
January 14 2011
Robert Gates, US defence secretary, has warned of a schism between the People’s Liberation Army and China’s civilian leaders.
Mr Gates’s comments indicate that the US blames a more aggressive Chinese military for some of the problems bedevilling bilateral security relations.
“Over the last several years we have seen some signs of ... a disconnect be­tween the military and the civilian leadership,” he said in a speech at Tokyo’s Keio University on Friday.
Mr Gates referred to “pretty clear indications that [civilian leaders] were un­aware of the flight test of the J-20” stealth fighter, which was widely seen as an anti-US signal as it took place immediately before his meeting with Hu Jintao, the president, this week.
Mr Hu also chairs the Communist party’s central military commission, which controls the armed forces.
Mr Gates cited two other events when Washington thought Beijing’s civilian leadership had not been aware of the aggressive approach: an incident when Chinese ships sought to ram and cut off the communications of a US reconnaissance vessel in early 2009, and a 2007 anti-satellite test that fanned fears in Washington about the militaris­ation of space.
His remarks come amid increasing speculation that the PLA’s role in forming China’s foreign policy and its interactions with the ruling Communist party might be changing. In recent years, the PLA has been transforming into a modern force focused on safeguarding China’s reg­ion­al and global economic interests.
In a paper on civil-military links in China, Michael Kiselycznyk and Phillip Saunders, of the National Defense University in the US, point to a growing amount of often high-profile “policy advice” by Chinese military officers. For example, Rear Admiral Yang Yi, a retired naval strategist, said last year that Beijing should “make them hurt” in response to the US decision to sell arms to Taiwan.
But while the authors agree that the PLA’s higher profile has “the potential to aggravate relations with China’s neighbours and other major powers [such as the US]”, it is less clear what the armed forces’ louder voice really means.
Their study shows that western analysts have a poor record in predicting civil-military ties in China. Most western analysts say this is likely to con­tinue because China’s political system is so opaque.
Lora Saalman, of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, doubts that China’s stealth fighter test flight during Mr Gates’s visit represents a civil-military schism.
“It could suggest a good cop-bad cop scenario, where the government takes a more conciliatory stance, backed up by the power shown by the military,” she said. “This allows for greater deniability in cases where official rhetoric and actions do not match up.”
Diplomats in Beijing agree. They point to China’s repeated suspension of military-to-military ties with the US to punish Washington over arms sales to Taiwan as evidence that Beijing has a record of using the military as a tool for foreign policy goals.
Mr Gates suggested that closer Sino-US consultations could help bridge a civilian-military divide in Beijing, adding that the US National Security Council might serve as an example to help the PLA establishment co-ordinate better with other Chinese leaders.

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