Monday, October 14, 2013

Interesting Times in China

The Chinese leaders have an interesting problem.

Strategypage writes:

It’s not just loyalty [of the Chinese military] the civilian leadership is worried about. There is also a persistent problem with corruption. Ever since the economy was turned lose in the 1980s, China has been having more and more trouble keeping its generals and admirals under control. The big problem is not the threat of a coup but corruption, which can lead to all sorts of problems. This has led to many Chinese leaders wondering if they can have corruption-free as well as effective modern armed forces. Thus the current military reforms in China, needed to turn the armed forces into a modern and effective organization, may end up putting the political leadership between a rock and a hard place. Many Chinese leaders believe that they cannot have military leadership that is corruption free, capable of fighting a modern enemy, and politically loyal and reliable at the same time. What it comes down to is agreeing on the most important criteria for promoting junior officers. Should it be those who are loyal (and often corrupt and not capable warriors) or those who can get things done (and are often disdainful of corrupt and politically correct officers and government leaders)?

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) loosened party controls on the economy but insists that the party continue to have a monopoly on political power.

As party control in everyday life has weakened, the party has resorted to promoting often xenophobic nationalism to justify the continued political monopoly.

Economic power is translating into more advanced military hardware. To use that new hardware, the Chinese military needs troops--especially officers--more proficient at their jobs.

This change in officer training often leads to officers thinking of themselves as defenders of China--not the party--given the switch in emphasis to nationalism rather than communist ideology as the source of legitimacy for CCP rule.

But the military's primary role is still to defend the monopoly of political power that the CCP holds.

So what does China's leadership do? Make their officers more effective as soldiers yet risk losing the military as the defender of the CCP?

Or emphasize loyalty in the armed forces and risk having a paper military that is only capable of gunning and running down civilians who protest party rule?

As long as the Chinese Communist Party remains committed to communist political rule, in the long run I'll guess the Chinese choose the latter. After all, there is really no threat of invasion from anywhere around their border to worry about.

Yet what if China's rulers mistake all that shiny new hardware as meaning they have an effective military? Could they start what they think is a short and glorious war to end what they see as two centuries of humiliation by stronger outsiders and solidify Chinese popular loyalty based on a nationalistic appeal to unity under party leadership?