Is China Ruled by a Military Oligarchy?

Is China Ruled by a Military Oligarchy?

Who rules China?

Until recently, the answer has been obvious: the Communist Party. More specifically, a nine-member standing committee of the party’s politburo controls the country, though political power ostensibly resides in the 3,000-member National People’s Congress, which rubber-stamps politburo decisions.

But times–and opinions–change. China’s provocative anti-satellite test in January and comprehensive military expansion–the likes of which the world has not seen since the re-arming of Germany in the 1930s–has led a small number of intelligence experts to question the conventional view of Chinese elite politics. For the first time, analysts are seriously entertaining the notion that China may actually be a military dictatorship posing as a party-ruled, authoritarian (formerly totalitarian) state.

According to this intriguing theory, the People’s Liberation Army allows the party to manage domestic and foreign affairs–up to a point. Should domestic unrest or dangerously democratic tendencies ever get out of hand, analysts speculate, the PLA would intervene–under party cover. In other words, the party has allegedly become the tool of the military, and real power on the Chinese mainland (in contrast with democratic Taiwan) comes from the barrel of the PLA gun, which is no longer controlled by party leaders.

A Chinese military oligarchy. It’s an intriguing and compelling concept … which may even have the added advantage of being factual and true. We’re not sure. Whether the PLA rules, competes with, or is still ruled by the party, this much seems certain: China’s military rise constitutes a strategic threat to the United States, because China’s generals have decided that the US is China’s main adversary, even though it is also China’s principal trading partner and a key to China’s modernization. Seventeen years of double-digit “defense” spending stems from the PLA’s determination to eventually replace the US as the world’s leading military power.

More immediately, the PLA is preparing for war with the US over Taiwan. The PLA is obsessed with taking back the island and has essentially given the party a limited time-frame for achieving peaceful reunification. If there is no substantive progress by 2010–two years after the Beijing Summer Olympic Games–the military will move. Not for nothing has it amassed an arsenal of some 1,000 ballistic missiles opposite the “renegade province” and adding approximately 100 missiles a year to the ominous array. Not for nothing is the PLA blinding and blasting satellites in space….

Post Script: The PLA allows the party to appear in charge of the military, analysts speculate, through the titles held by China’s Paramount Leader, Hu Jintao. He is President of the People’s Republic of China, Chairman of the Central Military Commission and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. The Central Miilitary Commission is technically an organ of the Communist Party, not the state.

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