China’s Strategic Vision and the PLA’s Rise

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  • July 2011

    The aim of this paper is to examine the rising power of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in China’s strategic vision. Since the founding of new China in 1949, there have been instances of PLA leaders challenging the Communist Party of China (CPC) leadership. But on each instance the Party prevailed emphatically. The dictum “The Party commands the gun, and the army protects the Party” is still very much in place. In the last two decades, however, the relationship between the Party and the PLA has undergone some significant changes. In the 1980s, the PLA prevented Party general secretaries Hu Yaobang’s and Zhao Ziyang’s appointment as the Central Military Commission (CMC) Chairman, forcing Deng Xiaoping to continue in that post. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, Deng gradually succeeded in installing Party general secretary, Jiang Zemin to the post. Gradually, the Party and the PLA entered into a new relationship of mutual adjustment and mutual accommodation. The PLA’s rise in assertive diplomacy in strategic and territorial issues became visible between 2008 and 2010, when it took on the United States, backed China’s territorial claims in the East China Sea and the South China Sea with military threats and occasional confrontation. Of course, the Party gave support. This led to China losing influence in its Asia Pacific neighbourhood to Washington. The first half of 2011 showed China trying to mend fences with the US, but relations over territorial issues still remain tense. Politically, the PLA clearly remains under the Party. Having said that, signed articles from serving top level PLA Commanders suggest that within the organization there have been pressures to do away with Party control. Under these conditions the Party will have to give the PLA a greater say in important strategic policy affairs.

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