As the Chinese Communist Party’s Military, PLA celebrated its 93rd anniversary on 1st August, it’s time to look at its credentials and role in keeping the Party in power.
In the run-up to the event, their official website put out a long statement, ostensibly written by CCP Generals which made many fastidious claims, such as ‘CCP Army has splendid achievements’; ‘committed to well-being and liberation of the Chinese people’; and ‘no danger or challenge could ever stop the CCP military from advancing with tremendous morale and courage’.
The last statement was however put to test by the Indian Army on the icy and peaks of Galwan on 15 June. No honourable army hides the sacrifice of its soldiers. But the Chinese Communist Party’s Military (CCP’s Military) had to worry about the impact of the casualties it suffered on their political future.
PLA Represents ‘Will’ of Communist Party Not Chinese People
Raised as an armed militia with a clear mandate to bring the Communists to power, rather than the people of a nation, the CCP Military is only a tool to achieve a political aim. The structure of its military has been carefully maintained to serve this primary task of keeping the Communist Party in power. The military therefore represents the ‘Will’ of the CCP and not the Chinese. I has been employed for ethnic cleansing of Uighurs in Xinjiang province and Tibetans in their own homeland.
The Military had supported CCP’s battle for power during the Chinese civil war and emerged victorious against its own people, thus enforcing CCP’s will. During World War-II, the CCP Military preferred to fight the Kuomintang (pro-democracy nationalists who fled to Taiwan) rather than the Japanese, and was responsible for the failures of many initiatives by the nationalists to fight the Japanese. The CCP Military waited for the Kuomintang and Japanese to annihilate each other, before stepping in for an opportunistic guerrilla warfare campaign. They were perfectly content with butchering millions of Chinese in order to grab power, rather than face the Japanese and protect Chinese citizen.
Oath of Allegiance Not to the Country, Constitution or People, But to the Party
Even today, despite military officers being cadres of Communist party, there are civilian party commissars present at all levels who take every military decision from holding major drills, sending soldiers to colleges or getting promotions; activities which are otherwise undertaken by the military in professional armies worldwide. Even the oath of allegiance is not to the country, constitution or people, but to the CCP!
Military Engaged In Political Work
To ensure that the CCP Military never forgets its raison d’etre – that of protecting the party against its enemies, they have to engage in constant political work. This means that 30-40 per cent of an officer’s career is wasted on non-military matters, such as learning party propaganda, singing patriotic songs and conducting group discussions on Maoist Communist theory. Senior officers also spend time trying to get themselves elected to the CCP national congress.
The Party is deeply embedded into CCP Military from top down. Not content at being ultimate leader of the military, the Chairman and Party have established tentacles going all the way down to micro–manage everything that their military does. Loyalty and subservience to the Party is the way for promotions and additional benefits.
Military: Arm of Party Not National Instrument
As the CCP Military is seen as an arm of the Party and not a national instrument, management of its personnel is also carried out very differently as compared to regular armies elsewhere in the world. Starting with intake of fresh manpower, to benefits and retirement are all done as per needs of the Party rather than with a view to foster an independent professional force. This requires delving into its roots:
Starting out as a militia, the average CCP Military soldier was never a professional. He or she was a common citizen, pulled into the horde at a short notice with rudimentary training; the main aim being building the numbers required. They were released almost as soon as the battle or campaign ended and went back to being farmers/ industrial workers, as before.
Poor Pay-Package and Service Conditions
As China underwent an economic transition to a Party–owned crony capitalism from one of collective farmlands and state-run industries, the CCP Military was downsized from 2.5 million in 2003 to 2 million. This was in addition to earlier reductions from its peak of 6.1 million soldiers in mid 1970s. This left millions of veterans in the lurch, who wanted their dues. However, like with every other group which went against the Party, they were also brutally crushed.
As if the extremely poor support for retired personnel was not bad enough, even the emoluments of those serving are quite bad. At the end of a 30-year tenure, an officer in CCP Military would only be making 9000 Yuan, or about 1 Lakh rupees a month. This is particularly harsh since in terms of real income adjusted to the cost of living in China, the salaries are dismal.
Coupled with the fact that China does not really care for its soldiers and treats them as dispensable commodities (as seen in the Galwan clash), CCP Military is not an attractive employment option in China. Maintaining even the reduced staff levels has become a challenge. The CCP Military therefore tries to make this up through forced intakes. A significant portion is made up of conscripts (up to 40 per cent of total strength), who serve for only two years.
The draft is ad-hoc and different regions of the country are given quotas to be filled. The urban areas with richer and better educated youth are usually spared, and the numbers are made up from the poorer rural areas. Further, children of Party functionaries avoid serving, and prefer to be part of the Party, rather than be a part of the fighting forces. None of this goes to add to the already poor image of soldiering in the country. Not surprisingly, most conscripts are unwilling to serve, and there have been numerous cases of those trying to dodge the system.
Low Educational and Moral Qualities
The standard of recruits have been low and dropping, and stories abound in Chinese media of low educational and moral values in the rank and file. Made up of misfits, riffraff and criminals, there have been incidents of murders, escaped prisoners and even the heads of a criminal gangs having been signed up to serve in the military. There are also those who are press-ganged into service and are eagerly biding their time to go out.
Those who “volunteer” are those hoping to utilise military service as a stepping stone to enhanced status or wealth. The enhanced status comes from using the uniform to gain admission to senior levels in the party. A position in the ruling establishment would open doors for them, in terms of permissions for running businesses, obtaining licenses, contracts and such avenues of pecuniary gain. These recruits place a high value on building a network of connections and look at their stint as a way to gain contacts at the highest levels of Chinese society. The Chinese establishment too, encourages the above mindset as part of meeting its twin goals of running the military “on the cheap” and “keeping the military under the party”.
Chinese Military Business: Pakistani ‘MILBUS’ Parallel
The CCP Military–CCP combine is a huge business conglomerate. The military directly owns factories, hospitals and real estate which are run by uniformed officers, much like the ‘Fauji Foundation’ of Pakistan ‘MilBus’ (military into business) parallel. Ex-soldiers transform to become entrepreneurs and run companies whose contracts are enabled by their friends within the government, both in the uniformed military and civilians in the Party. It is a win-win arrangement by which post retirement future is secured and Party members’ pockets are lined.
Forces Thrive on Propaganda
The CCP Military also relies heavily on propaganda, deniability and provocation for achieving the expansionist plans of the CCP. Despite propagandistic media coverage, their recent conduct in conflict zones have exposed their debatable professional attitude, character and grasp of tactical situations. Chinese Military’s lack of professionalism was on display in a widely reported incident in South Sudan in 2016.
Chinese soldiers guarding a UN camp fled, leaving behind even their weapons and equipment, when armed militias and soldiers of the South Sudan army attacked them. As a result, many female aid workers were molested and civilians killed.
The CCP Military is not a professional armed force of a nation, rather, it is an armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party, masquerading in ‘uniform’. The CCP Military is a hollow organisation, at the core it’s moth–eaten and brittle, quite incapable of withstanding the professionalism of modern armed forces of any nation in combat situations.
By Ravi Shankar