Wed, Oct 31, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Outspoken Chinese officers present a challenge to the CCP

China’s military officers are railing against official corruption and calling for political openness

By Christopher Bodeen  /  AP, BEIJING

Illustration: Mountain People

China’s government has demanded talks with Japan in their latest dust-up over a set of tiny islands, but a high-ranking Chinese military officer has suggested drastically more belligerent responses.

Dispatch hundreds of fishing boats to fight a maritime guerrilla war, Major General Luo Yuan (羅援) says. Turn the uninhabited outcroppings into a bombing range. Rip up World War II peace agreements and seize back the territory, now controlled by Japan, but long claimed by China.

“A nation without a martial spirit is a nation without hope,” Luo declared at an academic forum this month in Shenzhen, while officials in Beijing continued to urge negotiations.

Luo’s remarks reflect a challenge for China’s leadership from a military increasingly willing to push the limits of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) official line on foreign relations, territorial claims and even government reforms. It is a challenge that will need to be carefully managed if a once-a-decade leadership transition beginning on Nov. 8 is to go smoothly, with China’s global reputation and the party’s credibility both at stake.

Backed by what is now the world’s second-largest military budget behind the US, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is bristling with new armaments and is becoming increasingly assertive. That has distressed neighbors, such as Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, and has prompted the US to send more military assets to the region.

Presiding over this force will be a new generation of military leaders taking power at the same time as the new crop of political leaders.

Up to seven of the 10 uniformed members of the Central Military Commission, which oversees the armed forces, are set to retire. Members of the new panel are expected to demand an even greater say in decisionmaking — and a tougher line in disputes with other nations.

While Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) absolute command over the armed forces had at time been questioned, his presumed successor, Chinese Vice President Xi Jingping (習近平), may have an easier time keeping officers on-message because of his closer ties with many top military figures as a fellow “princeling” — those with ties to the People’s Republic of China’s founding fathers.

Officially, China espouses a “peaceful rise” philosophy that stresses a defensive military posture and the negotiated resolution of disputes. However, the PLA’s newest generation of ships, submarines, stealth planes and the development of its first aircraft carrier suggest the capability for operations far from home.

Hawkish officers such as Luo have a broad audience in the PLA and in a Chinese public that has grown more stridently nationalistic and increasingly impatient with a ruling party seen as bloated, unresponsive and corrupt.

Luo, whose father was a top security officer for former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東), has at times openly questioned the legitimacy of the “peaceful rise” philosophy and warned that it does not preclude China from using force to assert its interests.

Their sentiments find a ready audience via books, online sites and even in state media.

There is a “continual tug-of-war between the party and the PLA,” said Denny Roy, an expert on the Chinese military and senior fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii.

“The party may not want to appear to be trying to stifle a popular nationalistic position expressed by a military man, [which could] turn public anger against the civilian leadership,” Roy said.

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