15 January 2010

CMSI ‘Red Book’ #4: “Chinese Civil-Military Relations in the Post-Deng Era: Implications for Crisis Management and Naval Modernization”

Nan Li, Chinese Civil-Military Relations in the Post-Deng Era: Implications for Crisis Management and Naval Modernization, Naval War College China Maritime Study 4 (January 2010).

This study addresses two analytical questions: What has changed in Chinese civil-military relations during the post–Deng Xiaoping era? What are the implications of this change for China’s crisis management and its naval modernization? Addressing these questions is important for three major reasons. First, because the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is a party army, it is commonly assumed that its primary function is domestic politics—that is, to participate in party leadership factional politics and to defend the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against political opposition from Chinese society. For the past twenty years, however, the PLA has not been employed by such party leaders as Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao against political opposition from either the CCP or Chinese society. The PLA’s ground force, which is manpower-intensive and therefore the most appropriate service for domestic politics, has been continuously downsized. Technology and capital-intensive services that are appropriate for force projection to the margins of China and beyond and for strategic deterrence but are inappropriate for domestic politics—such as the PLA Navy (PLAN), the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), and the Second Artillery (the strategic missile force)—have been more privileged in China’s military modernization drive. This study, by examining change in Chinese civil-military relations, undertakes to resolve this analytical puzzle.

Second, China’s civil-military interagency coordination in crisis management during the post-Deng era has remained an area of speculation, for lack of both information and careful analysis. By analyzing change in Chinese civil-military relations, this study aims to shed some light on this analytical puzzle as well. Finally, the PLAN was previously marginalized within the PLA, partly because the latter was largely preoccupied with domestic issues and politics, where the PLAN is not especially useful. By exploring change in Chinese civil-military relations, this study also attempts to explain why during the post-Deng era the PLAN has become more important in China’s military policy.