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Six Structure and Process in the Chinese Military System
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Structure and Process in the Chinese Military System

Jonathan D. Pollack

Among the major institutions buttressing the power of the Chinese state, the People's Liberation Army remains one of the least well understood. Despite its vast size, its proprietary claim on resources, and its pivotal role in the political history of the People's Republic, the army remains to most professional observers unknown and inaccessible. The armed forces retain a subordinate status in relation to the Chinese Communist Party and still serve as the Party's ultimate instrument of coercive control. At the same time, however, the army assumes a distinctive, autonomous organizational identity, and in numerous respects constitutes a virtual state within a state, exercising pervasive if minimally observable influence over the lives of millions of Chinese citizens.

The army is also in the throes of major change. Having long functioned on the basis of inherited prerogatives and procedures, the PLA in the 1980s found itself challenged from above, below, and within. The challenge from above came from Deng Xiaoping, whose assumption of the chairmanship of the CCP Central Military Commission in 1981 reflected the singular importance of this leadership post and also Deng's convictions about the failings of the military establishment. The challenge from below concerned the diminished stature of the military profession in an era of economic reform, with the army no longer serving as a promising channel for upward mobility. The challenge from within came from a far more capable and increasingly restive segment of the officer corps, which had grown dissatisfied with the highly circumscribed opportunities for professional advancement. By mid-decade the fitful


movement away from the inherited military arrangements of the Cultural Revolution era started to jell, with an embryonic modern military system beginning to take shape.

This transformed military system entailed the formulation of rules and regulations for long-term institutional development and the professionalization of the officer corps. At the same time, the armed forces began to interact more fully with other Chinese institutions than at any point in the last thirty years, even as the PLA's relationship with the Party remained distinct and unique. Although the PLA was still accountable to the CCP, it also stood apart from it, given the army's specialized, quasi-separatist character. The military leadership identified two tasks for the longer term: first, to enhance the stature of a modernized, professional military system within China, and second, to balance the military's need for autonomous professional development against the continuing imperative of accountability and subordination to Party rule.

The concepts underlying the emergent military system, however, remain transitional and incomplete. Current norms and arrangements still reflect three singular formative influences: the pervasive role of Mao and his closest military colleagues in shaping the PLA's thinking, policies, and procedures; the lasting technological and bureaucratic imprint of Soviet tutelage in the 1950s; and the absence of regular mechanisms for leadership turnover. In addition, given the army's crucial role in maintaining social and political order during the 1960s and 1970s, there was a predominantly inertial character to institutional development, with few efforts to alter existing personnel arrangements, especially those deeply embedded in the day-to-day workings of the system. Numerous recent changes have concerned the reconfiguration of the old system, not a comprehensive introduction of new structures and processes. These hybrid arrangements often remain derivative of interpersonal relations, rather than professional norms, and leave unresolved the mechanisms and forms of bargaining and resource allocation within the military and across bureaucratic channels. But the pervasive grip of tradition has begun to loosen, and the outlines of a more modern, regularized military establishment are discernible for the first time.

The upheavals of the spring of 1989, however, again thrust the leadership of the armed forces into a pivotal position in Chinese political life. This has presented the PLA with a newfound opportunity to advance its corporate interests (e.g., through increased budgets and an enhanced social-control function), and it could well afford the army a decisive role in the post-Deng succession process. But it is a very mixed blessing. By becoming deeply embroiled in interpersonal rivalries atop the system, the actions of the military leadership intruded upon the professionalizing mission that many in the officer corps deem the army's paramount


objective. Thus, the PLA in the early 1990s is not a cohesive, unified institution.

This chapter addresses the distribution of power within the Chinese armed forces. Specifically, where does power reside within the military system? What are the principal resources available to the military leadership (e.g., personnel assignment, budget resources, foreign technology, etc.), and who controls them? Are the criteria for determining the distribution of such resources predominantly personal or institutional? Three major issues are assessed:

1. What are the predominant characteristics of the inherited military system?

2. What are the principal changes that Deng and his allies have tried to introduce in the military system, and what have been the results?

3. What are the defining traits of the PLA's present leadership arrangements and institutional procedures?

The Inherited Military System

The Chinese armed forces represent a virtual way of life for large numbers of Chinese. Although there have been periodic efforts to curb the size of the military establishment, these attempts have focused on the PLA as a fighting force, rather than as a full service institution. The army's allocative and distributive reach within Chinese society and the economy is unusually broad. It employs, feeds, and houses millions of people. Its claim on the national budget, while much diminished at present, was virtually unlimited in previous decades, and its proprietary access to resources remains very great.

The principal anomaly in the power of the military is its understated leadership role. Except in the early 1950s and between the mid to late 1960s and the early 1970s, the PLA has not assumed power in an overt political sense. The army frequently achieved disproportionate representation in national and provincial-level leadership bodies, but rarely chose to exercise this power fully. The Party and the army achieved a compact or at least a tacit understanding: in exchange for its obeisance to CCP rule, the PLA remained emperor of a vast realm of its own. Except for post—Korean War cutbacks and the retrenchment following the "high tide" of military influence under Lin Biao, the Party leadership very rarely intruded upon the societal, organizational, and economic domains controlled by the armed forces.

By dint of these understandings, the power and prerogatives of the PLA became embedded deeply in Chinese administrative and economic life. The military's entitlements ranged very widely, including control of


airfields, ports, air space, communications networks, and industrial facilities, as well as access to goods and services from abroad. These inherited assets and jurisdictional claims, being reserved for the near exclusive use of the armed forces, inhibited infrastructural and societal development as a whole.

Some of the most telling consequences were found in the Chinese defense industrial system. Created and designed under Soviet guidance in the 1950s, but subsequently cloned at Mao's behest in interior provinces during the 1960s, the defense economy kept millions employed.[1] Except for high-priority national defense projects, there were neither incentives nor opportunities for meaningful reform. The creation of "third line" defense industries frequently replicated the inefficiencies of existing plants and facilities, with these units granted proprietary claim on budgetary, technical, and manpower resources, as well as preferential access to industrial materials and energy supplies.[2] Gross inefficiency and the absence of effective innovation went hand in hand, with Chinese factories producing endless amounts of antiquated equipment at heavily subsidized state prices. A vast, highly duplicative defense industrial system produced on demand for a military hierarchy that sought only to keep all key organizational constituencies "well fed."

Few within the leadership ever challenged the army's entitlements. As a consequence, the army grew by accretion and inertia, bloated by a personnel logjam, especially at the upper reaches of the system. The army was rewarded for its loyalty and service to the state in successive national crises, garnering progressively larger forces and budgetary resources. But size did not beget organizational efficiency; military preparedness was deemed important only for elite national defense units.

Different levels of the military system, however, performed invaluable services for state and society. The PLA built bridges and railways, furnished personnel and facilities for internal security, maintained order at times of upheaval, contributed labor and materials to major national projects, and safeguarded national security. By its reach throughout the provinces and by the strategic positioning of key military units, it also served as the ultimate guarantor of political and social control. But these arrangements gradually transformed the military system into a person-


nel, administrative, and economic network of staggering and unmanageable proportions.

Thus, to conceptualize the PLA as a military establishment and guardian of national security is somewhat misleading; to many, it was a way of life, insulated from society as a whole and highly privileged and protected. At the same time, soldiers and civilians employed by the army generally enjoyed living standards superior to other institutions. Few incentives existed to alter this general pattern, and the Party leadership (mindful of its dependence upon the armed forces) granted the PLA effective control of its own realm. Deng Xiaoping sought to remake the Chinese defense establishment in the context of these practices and circumstances.

Revamping The Personnel System

When Deng (as PLA chief of staff) first assumed responsibility for military affairs in the mid-1970s, he quickly concluded that the PLA was a deeply troubled institution. In his infamous characterization to a meeting of the Military Commission in mid-1975, Deng asserted that the PLA suffered from "bloating, laxity, conceit, extravagance, and inertia."[3] Deng's reform efforts of this period were aborted by his ouster from power in 1976. By dint of its pivotal role in displacing the "Gang of Four," the PLA completed its recovery from the trauma of the Lin Biao affair, with the leadership settling into a Brezhnevite "stability of cadres" orientation. Except for those directly implicated in the factional politics of the Lin Biao era or for those who were hopelessly decrepit, most disgraced military leaders were returned to comparable or higher positions than those from which they had been ousted. The predominant character of military policy-making was inertial and self-satisfied, and an uncertain, untested Hua Guofeng was only too willing to comply.[4]

The consequences of this complacency, however, were driven home by China's inept military performance in the "pedagogic war" against Vietnam. As Jiefangjun Bao observed much later: "War is the mirror of training. The war of self-defensive counterattack against Vietnam in 1979—this small mirror—reflected the state of PLA's training at that time. ... A generation of military men ... had been wallowing [in] the PLA's glorious history: We are backward, our weapons and equipment are


backward, and ... even more frightening ... our military thinking and training ideas are backward!"[5]

Although there was no single explanation of these circumstances, the sorry state of the officer corps was a principal contributing factor. China's ratio of officers to enlisted men was (and is) the highest of any major army in the world. Many of these revolutionary veterans were simply not competent to lead a modern military force. Once Deng assumed chairmanship of the Military Commission in 1981, a major overhaul of the leadership and personnel system was one of his highest priorities. His goal was to induce accountability, responsiveness, and increased efficiency within a vast bureaucratic system that placed little value on any of these goals. As reforms slowly began to take root, new generations of young, technically competent personnel were recruited and educated, but they awaited job assignments appropriate to their background and training. Thus, senior officials needed to yield their posts, but without excessive disruption or alienation.

Deng's efforts took a long time to bear fruit. In July 1988 Jiefangjun Bao observed that "as early as 1980, Chairman Deng Xiaoping proposed that the system of military ranks should be implemented."[6] Beginning with the replacement of a number of regional military commanders, and proceeding to ever more ambitious attempts to overhaul the procedures governing the military system as a whole, a modern, regularized institutional framework slowly developed. It took nearly a decade for these policies to emerge with any clarity, suggesting the deeply entrenched character of the inherited system. Deng sought to replace hundreds of thousands of superannuated officers, but he proceeded in measured fashion, seeking to restructure the military without humiliating those losing status and power.

According to subsequent accounts, Deng's efforts "to build a powerful, modern, and regular revolutionary army" began in earnest in September 1981, three months after his election as chairman of the Military Commission.[7] But the record of events in the early 1980s is spotty.[8] Although there were limited cutbacks in manpower, reductions in the defense budget, and some transfers of military enterprises to the civilian sector, these steps did not yield major results. Deng is alleged to have


urged "radical measures" during a 1981 speech, but these efforts bore little fruit. Deng remained preoccupied in a more immediate sense with economic and political matters and chose to limit his direct involvement in military affairs. At Deng's behest, Yang Shangkun in 1983 was given overall responsibility to develop policy options for military reorganization; Yang is alleged to have overseen all subsequent reorganization and manpower-reduction measures.[9]

The principal obstacle to institutional reform was the sheer size of the PLA. For all practical purposes, there were no retirement procedures for senior personnel. In a speech to an enlarged meeting of the Military Commission on November 1, 1984, Deng commented on the immensity of the PLA, concluding that such a "swollen" military organization was too cumbersome to conduct actual military operations, let alone organize an orderly retreat. To underscore his unhappiness, Deng observed that the principal shortcoming of the triumphal military parade of October 1 marking the PRC's thirty-fifth anniversary was that "the man who reviewed the troops is an old man of eighty years."

In his November 1 address to the Military Commission, Deng announced the decision to reduce the PLA's manpower by one million men. Reflecting the sensitivity of these measures, Deng observed: "Let me assume responsibility for offending some people on this matter. I don't want to oblige the new chairman of the Military Commission."[10] The issues were subsequently deliberated at an enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission in May–June 1985, which declared a "strategic shift" in the army's orientation geared toward "structural reform, reduction in strength, and reorganization [as] the central projects for the armed forces during the next two years."[11] Hu Yaobang asserted that the policy changes followed "two years of repeated deliberation and a cool and objective analysis of the international situation and China's own defense capabilities."[12] Although the manpower reductions had a strategic rationale—that China did not anticipate large-scale war for the remainder of this century—this characterization served principally to justify cutbacks and leadership turnover, rather than to explain them.

The principal effects of the 1984–85 decisions were to initiate a reduction in the officer corps ultimately totaling nearly 600,000 men, to pare China's military regions from eleven to seven, and to revamp a hopelessly inefficient system for allocating men, equipment, and materiel. At


the same time, other military units were abolished, deactivated, or transferred to the civilian apparatus, with different military headquarters in Beijing absorbing more modest cuts in personnel. The consequences of these decisions for the combat strength of China's armed forces proved minimal; the moves were intended principally to accelerate the retirement of senior officers, who had been generally exempted from the far more modest cutbacks of the early 1980s. The 1985 measures reached deeply into the leadership ranks of the Kunming, Wuhan, Fuzhou, and Urumqi military regions, each of which was absorbed into neighboring regions. All four military regions had in the past been judged vital to Chinese security planning, and the commanders of these forces evidently believed that they would be exempted from major cuts.

Little is known about the criteria employed by the Military Commission in dismantling "the four big temples." Although Deng and Yang appealed to the leadership of the affected units to keep the "overall situation" in mind and to accept the decisions of the Center, the transition was not smooth. Units purportedly sought to circumvent or subvert the commission's decisions by the squandering of funds, the theft of equipment and resources, and questionable job reassignments.[13] Although it is impossible to gauge the extent of these activities, such behavior reflected the threat to the prerogatives of a comfortably ensconced military elite. As a retired PLA officer observed during an interview, "The most difficult questions in China are those of personnel affairs."

Both publicly and privately, Chinese military officers treat the decisions of the late spring of 1985 as crucial to all subsequent steps toward institutional reform. Having achieved (or perhaps imposed) a consensus within the senior military ranks for a major organizational restructuring, Deng and Yang Shangkun launched a corollary series of steps. Two processes had to occur in tandem: the provision of psychic and financial compensation for those compelled to step down, and the specification of professional criteria for those moving into vacated positions, including the procedures and standards for future promotions.[14]

Different but simultaneous criteria were therefore devised for the two separate populations. For those stepping down from military service, the size of their pensions and their attributed status (in the forms of different categories of medals) derived principally from longevity—that is, the


date of entry into the army and their rank as of 1965.[15] One interviewee (a recent retiree) described some of the steps in the process. The officer acknowledged that retirement was compulsory, not voluntary. Retirement is resisted because of the decline in status and the lack of protection against inflation. The pension arrangements entail a combination of criteria: cadre rank (there are twenty-one grades in the military), retirement bonuses, and a variety of miscellaneous allowances all form part of the package. In the estimation of this retiree, the burgeoning costs associated with the retirement system have yet to yield any of the presumed financial dividends of a smaller military establishment, since the preponderance of the budget is devoted to salaries and pensions, not weapons.

For those moving up, the passage of military-service legislation in July 1988 and the reestablishment of military ranks on October 1, 1988, marked major milestones. For the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, explicit procedures governing appointment, promotion, compensation, job tenure, and retirement were in place.[16] Irrespective of the age and technical competence of particular serving officers, all military careers had suffered from a two-decade-long interruption of standard procedures for professional mobility. When ranks were eliminated in 1965, the prospects for advancement for all officers were frozen. Unlike those in the Party and state bureaucracies, career officers had no independent validation of their position and status. This problem assumed even greater poignancy when (as was noted earlier) officers discredited during the Lin Biao era were reappointed at the same rank or higher, blocking upward mobility for younger officers. The problems in the PLA were compounded by a lower mandatory age for retirement. Thus, a division commander must retire at fifty-five (although this can be extended to sixty if the officer has earned an advanced degree), whereas civilians may work for another five to ten years. Even with these new procedures, the system remains extremely top-heavy and overstaffed, especially at the rank of colonel and senior colonel.

There is also a subtle but significant differentiation between the PLA's military and technical cadres. Military personnel serving in various technical capacities have a rank system nearly equivalent to that of line officers, but their rank designations are slightly lower than those of other active duty personnel. Although some technical officers still wear uniforms, they wear different insignia from the line officers, thereby differ-


entiating the two groups. Thus, there is a pecking order between soldiers and scientists. This mechanism is also an artful means of keeping the total number of line officers at lower levels.

The reintroduction of ranks represented a significant turning point in Chinese military development. Positions in the PLA hierarchy would no longer derive principally from date of entry into the Red Army; rank and promotion would purportedly be linked with professional competence, merit, and technical expertise. The promulgation of these policies constituted a crucial transition in establishing explicit, institutionalized personnel arrangements for the military system as a whole, in the hope that the armed forces would again represent a highly desirable career option. Over time, therefore, the senior leadership hopes to recruit capable, well-educated officers who will view a military career with motivation, purpose, and long-term commitment. Should they fail to establish and institutionalize appropriate, predictable criteria for professional development, the prospects for creating a modern military establishment remain dim.

Military Command And Control

Increased interactions between Chinese military officers and foreign scholars have begun to yield a more differentiated picture of the structure of military decision making.[17] In addition, Chinese military researchers are openly discussing the continued viability of long-standing arrangements for military command. Rapid changes in information and communications technology are transforming the conduct of military operations and the administration of large, complex military systems on a worldwide basis, and Chinese specialists have studied these developments in earnest. At the same time, however, changes dictated by technological and organizational imperatives continue to clash with personalism and tradition deeply embedded in the military system.

The extant military system remains premised on centralized command and control, with supreme decision-making authority vested in the Military Commission of the CCP Central Committee. Appointments to the Military Commission are based on two principal criteria: status as a "military elder," or designated responsibility for one of four major spheres of organizational activity. Membership until late 1987 consisted of four elders (Deng Xiaoping as chairman, Yang Shangkun as perma-


nent vice-chairman and secretary-general, and Marshals Xu Xiangqian and Nie Rongzhen as vice-chairmen) and four senior military leaders with designated bureaucratic responsibilities (Yang Dezhi as director of the General Staff Department, Yu Qiuli as director of the General Political Department, Hong Xuezhi as director of the General Logistics Department, and Defense Minister Zhang Aiping as overseer for military research and development).[18]

Following the Thirteenth Party Congress, major changes in the top military leadership led to a reshuffling in the Party Military Commission. Although Deng remained chairman, Zhao Ziyang was appointed first vice-chairman, with Yang Shangkun continuing to serve concurrently as permanent vice-chairman and secretary-general. Under Peng Dehuai and Lin Biao, the minister of defense had served concurrently as first vice-chairman of the commission, with very significant power vested in this position. Xu Xiangqian and Nie Rongzhen—the only surviving marshals of the Chinese army—initially retained their titles as commission vice-chairmen. Although their positions appeared increasingly honorific, they maintained substantial personal influence through offspring serving in military capacities. For example, Nie's son-in-law, Ding Henggao, is the chairman of the Commission on Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense, or COSTIND, better known as the guofang kegong wei . Ding's wife, Nie Li, is also a senior official within COSTIND; in addition, she assumes a coordinating role across a number of institutions concerned with high technology.

In early June 1988, Deng, in an audience with the visiting Polish premier, elaborated on the implications of these changes:

You may have already noticed that there are two Vice Chairmen in the Central Military Commission, one is our Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, and the other is State President Yang Shangkun. ... Why have both the Party General Secretary and State President become Vice Chairmen? Probably this is a Chinese-style arrangement (laughs heartily). Nevertheless, this arrangement has practical significance because it actually means that I have handed over my duties and the Central Military Commission is now under the leadership of Comrade Zhao Ziyang.[19]

Zhao's growing involvement in and responsibility for military affairs during 1988 underscored this seeming changeover in leadership. In his capacity as first vice-chairman of the Military Commission, Zhao undertook an unpublicized visit to the Sino-Vietnamese border during the


Lunar New Year (accompanied by Yang Shangkun and Wang Zhen), delivered a major address in March on the impending tasks in military reform to a high-level military conference, and discussed China's transition to a "partial war" strategy and the parallel upgrading of the functions and responsibilities of the Ministry of National Defense.[20] Zhao's involvement with military planning appeared to indicate the PLA's acceptance of Zhao's role in the defense sector and contrasted markedly with Deng's inability to secure such acceptance for Hu Yaobang, who never received a formal leadership designation in the Military Commission. Zhao based his role on a "modernist" concept of the PLA—that is, that the armed forces would develop autonomous concepts and norms that did not depend exclusively on an organic bond with the Party.

An equally significant set of changes occurred in personnel assignments in the top military command posts following the Party Congress, and with it a reshuffling of the membership of the Military Commission. These changes testified to the extraordinary authority that Deng had delegated to Yang Shangkun. In November 1987 the heads of all three General Departments of the PLA stepped down, as did Defense Minister Zhang Aiping. Of these four senior generals, three (Yang Dezhi, Yu Qiuli, and Zhang Aiping) yielded their seats on the Military Commission, with Hong Xuezhi remaining as a deputy to Secretary-General Yang Shangkun. Liu Huaqing, previously commander of the Chinese navy, also assumed a post as deputy to the secretary-general; several interviewees confirmed that he had inherited Zhang Aiping's portfolio for military research and development. But the new General Department heads (Chi Haotian, Yang Baibing, and Zhao Nanqi) were not immediately confirmed in their predecessors' positions on the Party Military Commission, nor was the new minister of national defense, Qin Jiwei, voted comparable status.

The case of Qin Jiwei is the most revealing. Although a member of the Politburo, a commander with impeccable Second Field Army credentials, a Korean War hero, and a supposed favorite of Deng's, a ministerial appointment in the State Council is of decidely lesser import within the military system's job order rank. The minister of national defense commands no troops; indeed, for purposes of resource allocation within the State Council, he shares essentially coequal status with heads of the industrial ministries. To rectify this gap between the status of the defense minister and that of the General Department directors, the ministry was supposedly to be strengthened in its functions, personnel, and status. The upgrading of the general office (bangong ting ) within the Military


Commission, headed by Lt. Gen. Liu Kai, was viewed by some as the precursor of an effort to establish an autonomous capacity for defense planning, allegedly to be vested in a more powerful defense ministry.

But substantial ambiguity persisted for some time over the precise membership of the Party Military Commission.[21] Chinese sources remain silent on the differences between Party and state military commissions, referring in somewhat generic fashion to the "Central Military Commission" (zhongyang junshi weiyuanhui, or jun-wei ). The absence of a standarized membership list for the commission suggested the potency of the Party connection to the military leadership; the senior leaders were not prepared to ratify an autonomous role for the armed forces apart from the long-standing mechanisms of political control. In addition, the commission created a military legislation bureau (junshi fazhi ju ) intended to formulate explicit rules and regulations for upper-level personnel policy where none existed before.

The selection of new leaders for the general departments and the promotions of Liu Huaqing and Qin Jiwei also attested to the persistence of personalistic criteria in senior personnel assignments. The appointments of Liu Huaqing and Zhao Nanqi appeared attributable to their predecessors (both had worked closely with them in these designated areas of responsibility over long periods of time, with Zhao serving as Hong Xuezhi's aide-de-camp during the Korean War). Qin Jiwei's long-standing links to Deng appear to explain his designation. Yang Shangkun assumed a familial prerogative in the designation of his younger brother as head of the General Political Department. Chi, having leapfrogged over a number of far more senior officers, including Qin Jiwei, owed his appointment to Yang, though the precise nature of this relationship remains unknown. The persistence of these personalistic criteria suggests that the very top leadership remains unwilling to relinquish its most important prerogatives in personnel assignment and may be equally reluctant to forego the PLA's special relationship with the CCP.

Thus, it remains extremely uncertain whether the State Military Commission will assume an identity distinct from its Party counterpart, especially in the aftermath of the political crisis of 1989. The creation of the State Commission in 1982 was intended to encourage a separation of functions between Party and government, but it has thus far totally failed to achieve its stated goal. During the late 1980s (i.e., during the "high tide" of the professionalizing ethic in the armed forces), there was an effort to create a separate set of responsibilities for the second body. One line of speculation suggested that slots on the State Commission would be reserved for service chiefs and others charged with responsibility for


the transition to a more modern defense force—in other words, formalizing the separation between command and administration.[22] By implication, membership would also be extended to those within the military scientific and industrial apparatus, whose status in the hierarchy was not deemed equivalent to that of the general departments.

Designation on the CCP Military Commission remains the job that counts. Confirmation of promotion to this body for the defense minister and the new general department heads long remained obscure, testifying to the awkward relationship between older military generations and the younger generations promoted into senior command slots.[23] Of the three new general department heads, two (Chi and Zhao) were in their mid to late fifties. Their appointments signified the bypassing of military leaders in their sixties and early seventies, who "rightfully" expected to succeed to top posts. Deng, mindful of the need to invigorate the military establishment at all levels, had insisted that the top command slots be filled by much younger men, thereby explaining why Qin Jiwei did not receive his logical promotion—that is, chief of the general staff. Yang Baibing, who is in his late sixties, represents an exception to this trend, with his appointment made solely on personalistic grounds.

Promotion to membership on the Party Military Commission required a rank congruent with such status. According to the available information, commission members must hold a rank no lower than major general (shao jiang ).[24] The only confirmed promotion to the commission during 1987 was that of Liu Huaqing, who had achieved the rank of major general prior to the abolition of ranks in 1965. At best, Chi, Yang, and Zhao held this rank, or (more likely for Chi and Zhao) that of senior colonel (da xiao ). However, Qin Jiwei already held the higher rank of lieutenant general (zhong jiang ). To achieve congruence in status, all were among the seventeen senior officers receiving promotion to the rank of general (shang jiang ) when ranks were formally reintroduced in September 1988.

The designation of seventeen full generals in September 1988 provided the best indicator of the allocation of status and power within the high command.[25] Deng, Zhao Ziyang, and Yang Shangkun were not


designated with any military rank. Below them, appointments reflected a mix of bureaucratic responsibility, party links, seniority, and personal relations: two deputy secretary-generals of the Military Commission; the defense minister; the three General Department heads; the deputy chief of staff responsible for foreign affairs and intelligence; the secretary and second secretary of the Discipline Inspection Commission of the CMC; the political commissar of the Academy of Military Science (but not the president); the president and the political commissar of the National Defense University; the political commissars of the Beijing and Chengdu Military Regions (but not the commanders); the commander of the Nanjing Military Region (but not the political commissar), the political commissar of the navy (but not the commander), and the commander of the air force (but not the political commissar).

Despite these personnel shifts, a CMC executive committee or leading group continued to maintain overall responsibility for military affairs. This group consisted of those identified as vice-chairmen or members of the Secretariat, plus the senior serving military officer.[26] When circumstances warranted, this group forwarded its recommendations to Deng Xiaoping, who remained the supreme arbiter on military matters. In a speech in late May 1989 following the imposition of martial law, Yang Shangkun came close to confirming such an arrangement, even if it discredited Deng's remark of June 1988 asserting that he had already bequeathed leadership of the commission to Zhao Ziyang:

Now some people ask: As there are three chairmen [sic ] in the Central Military Commission, how could Deng Xiaoping alone order the movement of the troops responsible for enforcing martial law? These people do not understand the military service in our country at all. ... In our army, we pursue a commander responsibility system. Such people as I only play a counseling role in assisting the chairman. When he made the decision, he had not only talked with me, but had also talked with Xuezhi, Huaqing, and Minister Qin as well. Why could he not issue the order?[27]

The heads of the general departments represent a second tier of the military leadership. During the crisis of 1989 this group may not have participated in all critical decisions, although some were undoubtedly responsible for policy execution. But their capacity to wield power continued to derive principally from personal relationships, not institutional positions. A third concentric circle—those probably included in enlarged


meetings of the Military Commission—encompasses those miilitary chiefs above the army level. These would include service heads, commandants of the Academy of Military Service and the National Defense University, the seven military region commanders, and the political commissars from the above organizations.

The larger organizational constituencies represented on the Military Commission shed additional light on the allocation of power within the PLA. Each of the PLA's three general departments oversees a set of subsidiary institutions responsible for the full spectrum of activities incorporated within the military system. The reach of the General Staff Department is the largest, since this department is responsible for the separate force commands (air force, navy, strategic rocket forces, artillery, and armored forces), and it presides over other important organizational functions, including procurement, operational planning, and intelligence.[28] The General Political Department, although historically responsible for the system of political control and direction of the military propaganda apparatus, has played a lead role in redrafting the PLA's rules, regulations, and responsibilities. The Political Department has the largest voice in the reassignment of military personnel, including the designation of military ranks and the establishment of the retirement system. Thus, it subsumes most of the functions conducted within the CCP by the Organization Department. The General Logistics Department oversees the financial, supply, transportation, and maintenance network entailed in sustaining the operation of PLA units. This responsibility extends to the allocation of funds for equipment purchases and to the provision and maintenance of all nonlethal military equipment and ammunition stocks.

A lesser-known but increasingly important suborgan is the Discipline Inspection Commission (jilu jiancha weiyuanhui, or jiwei ) of the CMC. First identified in Chinese sources in 1984, the Discipline Inspection Commission has been assigned many of the political control functions previously associated with the General Political Department, although its responsibilities also very likely extend to broader personnel matters. General Guo Linxiang, a Long March veteran, serves concurrently as secretary of this group and deputy director of the General Political Department, although recent reports suggest his retirement from his post. The Discipline Inspection Commission was also unusually visible in the period immediately


following the imposition of martial law in May 1989, confirming its Party watchdog or oversight function within the armed forces. Although the secretary's position remains procedural rather than policy-oriented, he reports directly to the CMC secretary-general, thereby potentially vesting critical powers in the post.

The Commission on National Defense Science, Technology, and Industry (which until late 1987 reported to Zhang Aiping) is charged with overseeing, evaluating, coordinating, and approving plans for military research and development. It has also served as the principal point of contact for countries and firms engaged in negotiations with the Chinese government over transfer of military technology. In theory, the commission's responsibilities extend across all State Council ministeries involved in military production, as well as into the various service commands. The commission sees itself integrally involved in all long-range planning for high technology, with a mandate cutting across civilian as well as military jurisdictions. For reasons to be discussed further, its bark appears more imposing than its bite. But its influence remains substantial, both as a consequence of the prestige and position associated with its high-level patrons (Nie Rongzhen and Zhang Aiping) and by virtue of interpersonal connections that extend into various high-technology sectors.

The Military Commission sits atop this interlocking network of bureaucratic fiefdoms, and, at least nominally, it seeks to adjudicate (if not eliminate) the competition for manpower, budgetary, and technical resources within the system. As one interviewee indicated, however, the commission has a very small, dedicated staff and does not oversee a formally constituted system for defense planning; its power resides in the authority and prestige of individual leaders, rather than in the institution per se, and in its ability to tap expertise within an extensive research-and-planning apparatus.[29] Deng, in the early 1980s, delegated day-to-day responsibility for military affairs to Yang Shangkun, providing Yang with a decisive role in discharging the commission's responsibilities. The frequency and regularity of commission meetings remain unknown. In some instances, the commission has served as a "court of last resort" for disputes that cannot be resolved at lower levels, including major decisions on weapons acquisition. In addition, the commission retains the power of appointment to and dismissal from senior military posts, with the decision subject only to pro forma ratification by the Central Committee.

Differences between wartime and peacetime planning entail additional complexities. In conjuction with the service commands who serve


as "staff officers" under the General Staff Department, the Military Commission serves as the supreme deliberative body over the use of force. However, forces from the different services that are deployed "in theater" during peacetime report to the regional military commanders, who are responsible for coordinating and integrating all military assets available to them.[30] Interviewees explicitly described this arrangement in terms of the tiao-tiao kuai-kuai dynamic. The chief of staff in Beijing has authority over all operational forces in wartime, but in peacetime he delegates substantial responsibility to the regional commanders. Thus, the regional commander does not have the power to make decisions to initiate the use of force, since this responsibility attaches exclusively to higher-level authorities in Beijing. The role of the regional military commander therefore becomes especially sensitive. On the one hand, he cannot make the decision to go to war; on the other hand, he needs to make "on the spot" decisions based upon his own understanding of central directives. Thus, his responsibilities extend to crucial decisions at both the tactical and the operational level.

It is useful in this context to compare Chinese operational procedures with those followed in defense planning in the United States. In U.S. practice, the president and the secretary of defense (assisted by the joint chiefs in a staff role) deal directly with the unified regional commands. The service chiefs are therefore able to perform their principal responsibility—the management of day-to-day policy in their separate bureaucratic systems. Recent reforms, however, have shifted more power to the joint chiefs, with the chairman assuming an authoritative "centralizing" function, including powers that span the jurisdictional domains of the services and compel more "jointness" among the services.

Prior to the crisis of 1989, the PLA appeared to be headed in multiple directions. Chinese military researchers were increasingly questioning the relevance of a unitary system that combined command and administration, and they appeared to be searching for institutional mechanisms to divide these responsibilities.[31] Under these arrangements, military command and military management would be separated, creating a dual system that differentiated operational control of military forces from responsibility for manpower and materiel allocation, training, procure-


ment, and defense construction. But a differentiation between command and administration, although beneficial for the rationalization of functions within the armed forces, may also contribute to unwarranted complexity in bureaucratic channels, given the potential bifurcation of defense policy-making.

The prospects for military reform have been rendered much less certain in the aftermath of the 1989 crisis. Innumerable policy statements have reemphasized the singular importance again attached to political control, with an unmistakable effort to curtail efforts to encourage autonomous professional development. As was noted in an important Jiefangjun Bao editorial, "Over a certain period the leading advocates of bourgeois liberalization deliberately called for 'separating the Army from the Party' and 'preventing the Army from interfering in politics' in an attempt to shake off the Party's leadership over the army."[32] Pending a more conclusive determination of the CCP's future political directions, the development of autonomous institutional norms within the armed forces is likely to be-far more curtailed, with renewed importance to personal relations atop the system.

Deng's resignation from the chairmanship of the CCP Military Commission in November 1989 and his replacement by the Party secretary-general, Jiang Zemin, further underscore these conclusions. Coincident with Jiang's appointment, Yang Shangkun was elevated to Zhao Ziyang's previous position of first vice-chairman, Liu Huaqing was promoted to vice-chairman, and Yang Baibing succeeded his brother as secretary-general, with Qin Jiwei (reflecting his political difficulties following his alleged support for Zhao in the spring crisis) now serving as a member of the commission without executive responsibilities.[33] But Jiang's powers appear more fictive than real: he lacks the stature and personal authority that has been associated historically with the chairman's position. As with Hua Guofeng in the late 1970s, no one seriously believes that Jiang wields supreme power in the armed forces: such capacities remain invested in Deng Xiaoping and his designated first vice-chairman, Yang Shangkun. Taken as a whole, China's military command arrangements still seem an uneasy mix of personalistic and professional considerations. The closer to the acme of the system, the less command derives from specified rules and norms, a judgment amply driven home by the events of the spring of 1989. The persistence of traditional norms amidst a serious, sustained effort to professionalize the Chinese military establishment seems likely to remain a continuing source of long-term conflict within the policy-making process.


The Budgetary And Resource Allocation Process

The political and economic changes of the past decade have sharply altered the role and scope of military involvement in the Chinese system, with the armed forces no longer enjoying pride of place in centrally allocated budgetary, technical, and manpower resources. The PLA's diminished stature is reflected in its reduced leadership role: only two military leaders (Yang Shangkun and Qin Jiwei) serve on the Politburo elected at the CCP's Thirteenth National Congress, and military membership in the Central Committee has continued its slippage, evident since the Ninth Party Congress.[34]

There have also been sharp reductions in the defense budget. In the immediate aftermath of the Sino-Vietnamese War of early 1979, defense expenditure increased by 5.5 billion yuan, much of it replacement costs for the heavy losses of equipment and weaponry sustained during the war. This action proved the last major "out of cycle" surge in the military budget. The predominant thrust has been to reduce military manpower and defer major procurement decisions, in the hope of decreasing the military's operating budget in both absolute and relative terms. The announced increases of 15 percent in the 1990 military budget (much of it supposedly allocated for equipment purchases related to internal security needs) therefore represents a marked departure from this trend.[35]

As was noted earlier, however, the introduction of a retirement system has sharply increased near-term personnel and pension costs, effectively denying the PLA the surplus funds it hoped to generate by reducing the size of the armed forces. Moreover, a 1988 Central Intelligence Agency study estimated that total PLA manpower at the time of Deng's return to top military leadership may have been nearly double the prevailing estimates. Although much of this surplus manpower may not have been uniformed personnel, these individuals remained on the army payroll. According to this estimate, China "has reduced its armed forces by about 3 million men since 1977 ... [and] China's military operating budget ... has declined by about one-fifth over the last eight years." As the Chinese budget as a whole has grown, defense expenditures have shrunk from approximately one-third of total state expenditure in 1978 to about one-


fifth in 1987. The share of gross national income in the same period declined from 12 percent to 5 percent.[36]

These trends have convinced numerous observers that the military has lost much of its previous "clout," generally embodied in the view that national defense is "the last of the four modernizations." This judgment is more assertion than fact. Of the other "three modernizations," two (industry and science-and-technology) are linked integrally to the enhancement of military power, with the PLA still able to exert substantial influence in both domains. In addition, Chinese strategies unequivocally view the modernization of military power as essential for China's credibility as a world power in the next century. In his address commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the PLA, Yang Shangkun drew attention to the need to guarantee China's "status as a world power" (shijie jiangguo diwei ) by the middle of the twenty-first century.[37] Huan Xiang, the late international-affairs strategist, insisted that China could not rest content with the position of "being a second-rate power or merely a regional power," arguing that the nation must aspire to a status (if not a strength) equivalent to that of the United States and the Soviet Union.[38] Thus, the curtailing of the acquisition of major weapons systems is intended to shift attention toward enhanced technological and industrial capabilities as a whole rather than weaponry per se, with the armed forces very well endowed in scientific and industrial resources, especially in high-technology areas.

The movement away from a central allocative system has also opened a wide array of commercial opportunities for portions of the military system, with some parts of the military doing very well in recent years. In particular, the automony permitted to various military organizations to buy and sell goods and services has transformed the PLA's position and role. Although it is no longer business as usual for the armed forces, it is very much a time of business, with more entrepreneurial segments of the military establishment testing the marketplace for financial gain, thereby recouping many of the losses sustained in central budgetary allocations. The generation of such export earnings (Chinese weapons sales abroad


for 1988 were estimated at $3.1 billion in a U.S. congressional study) constitutes a new and potent source of power within the PLA.[39]

Although many levels of the military system initially appeared sluggish or resistant in responding to these new "rules of the game," the armed forces ultimately proved more adaptive. The defense establishment has been disabused of its somewhat complacent attitude toward its status and power relative to other functional sectors, and it is far more intent on developing strategies for enhancing institutional interests. But these commercial opportunities have disproportionately benefited those within the defense sector with the requisite connections to effect these transactions. It remains to be seen whether and when the military as an institution (as distinct from powerful individuals within the defense establishment) will realize gains appropriate to the scale of these activities.

The PLA remains an extremely powerful bureaucratic actor, a power reinforced by its coercive functions, by its responsibility for defense of the realm, and by its still potent access to technology and resources. But the military's capacity to retain or augment its financial and manpower assets was greatly challenged by various reform measures undertaken in the mid and late 1980s. At a time of budgetary stringency, the PLA confronted a growing gap between China's military-technological capabilities and those of its external rivals and potential adversaries. As Yang Shangkun observed at a Military Commission meeting in late 1986, "The principal contradiction in our army building is the contradiction between the objective requirements of modern warfare and the low level of modernization of our army."[40]

Paradoxes and contradictions nevertheless persist in the defense research-and-development sector. The Commission on Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense nominally presides over a vast, interlocking network of institutions devoted to the specification, appraisal, and application of advanced technologies for national defense. These functions comprise the four major tasks of research, development, testing, and evaluation. In theory, COSTIND oversees this sprawling, unwieldy apparatus, coordinating requests from the services for particular technologies, evaluating budgetary requirements of project proposals, and forwarding recommendations to the Military Commission for approval. COSTIND also oversees China's missile launch sites and satellite tracking facilities, thereby providing it control over important resources for which it has no bureaucratic competitor.


Considered as a whole, China's defense technology apparatus combines the logic of centralization and coordination with the reality of fragmentation, duplication, intrabureaucratic competition, and the frequent absence of effective oversight.[41] Thus COSTIND lacks the manpower resources required to undertake a more comprehensive bureaucratic role; its immediate professional staff numbers only seven hundred. But its small size is symptomatic of two larger problems: the absence of a viable concept of defense-resource management through which the commission can direct the R & D process, and the diffusion of effective control over budgetary and technical resources within the defense industrial system.

In a certain sense, COSTIND is a victim of the success of the Chinese nuclear weapons program. This program stands as vivid testimony to the capabilities of Chinese scientists and engineers, and the Chinese are legitimately proud of its accomplishments.[42] But the history of this program has also had an inhibiting effect, since the circumstances that contributed to its success cannot be replicated in the defense-modernization process as a whole. The principal ingredients included a virtually unlimited budget, consistent support from the highest levels of the political system, a relatively large pool of scientists and engineers trained abroad in the requisite areas, substantial infrastructural and technological assistance from abroad in initiating the program, a limited number of required end products, and urgent, compelling pressure to produce rapid results.

In 1982 COSTIND was formed by merging its predecessor (the Commission on Science and Technology for National Defense) with the National Defense Industries Office, which oversaw defense industrial production within the numbered machine building industries.[43] By combining the research and production functions in one organization, a single body was expected to wield power that a more limited organization could not. COSTIND's mandate and authority were provided through its principal sponsors in the military leadership, Marshal Nie Rongzhen and Senior General Zhang Aiping, both of whom had been intimately involved in the nuclear weapons program. The power of the nuclear weapons and space bureaucracy was entrenched within the commission, but it was subsequently extended through senior person-


nel appointments to the reconstituted industrial ministries that at least nominally "own" the plants that produce China's weapons.

These arrangements have guaranteed a pivotal role for COSTIND in the planning process and reflect a continuing effort (first put forward by Zhang Aiping in 1983) to maintain oversight and direction of major R & D decisions. Recalling the nuclear program, Zhang argued:

In 1956 the CPC Central Committee decided that developing guided missiles and atomic energy were the two key projects in our national defense modernization. ... Facts have proved that this was a completely correct decision. ... Our work in developing guided missiles and atomic bombs started relatively late but the speed of development was relatively quick. One important reason for this is that we centralized our organization, vigorously carried out coordination and cooperation, gave priority to key tasks, and concentrated our resources of labor, materials, and funds.[44]

The difficulty in applying this concept more widely in defense R & D reflects the highly disparate technological and engineering demands imposed by the full array of military needs (especially products or components that require serial production), the absence of a guaranteed internal customer for the items produced, and the lack of requisite experience in incorporating more advanced technologies within an outmoded defense industrial structure. As a result, the Chinese still produce military equipment that improves only marginally on Soviet designs provided to China three decades ago. Although there are prototypes and limited production runs of some systems that incorporate more advanced technologies, China's indigenous capability for R & D innovation and diffusion remains quite limited.

Under the "old" R & D system, where the industrial ministries were virtually guaranteed an annual allocation of materials and funds and where few if any pressures existed for technological innovation, the inertial tendencies were substantial. Factories steadily produced large quantities of military equipment (there are over five thousand aircraft in the air force inventory alone), but with very little attention given to its relevance to potential combat needs. Under the "new" R & D system, the customers (i.e., the services) either no longer want the product or cannot always guarantee the funds needed for manufacture and procurement.

Thus, those officers responsible for miltary procurement (housed principally in the Armaments Department of the General Staff) believe that their power and status within the system have been greatly undermined, and they are actively seeking to reassert their power and prerogatives. Their efforts are aided by the existence of an informal "middle-age


boy" network, many with familial or personal ties to senior Chinese leaders, who are able to secure large quantities of surplus weaponry lying unused in army warehouses. These arrangements tend to cut across institutional lines of authority, suggesting that informal, personal relationships remain the glue to numerous commercial transactions within the military system. By marketing this equipment (some of it upgraded with Western Technology) at bargain rates, Chinese suppliers earn substantial foreign exchange. Thus, financial power has passed to those who control the disbursement of surplus equipment and weaponry and show an aptitude for marketing these items.

The proliferation of trading companies that market Chinese military items attest to these changing conditions, with some companies also serving as purchasing agents for foreign military components or systems desired by end users.[45] There appear to be three principal types of actors: (1) companies associated with central R & D planners (i.e., COSTIND); (2) those linked to the industrial ministries (most prominently, North China Industries, or NORINCO); and (3) those associated with either the General Staff Department or the General Logistics Department (most prominently, Polytechnologies, which serves as the marketing arm of the General Staff's Armaments Department). COSTIND appeared to take the lead in negotiations at a government-to-government level (for example, the now-aborted Sino-American avionics agreement for the J-8 II aircraft); the ministries deal principally with collaborative arrangements with foreign firms, especially related to coproduction or technology transfer; and the services (as represented by the general departments) deal predominantly in Chinese sales to foreign governments and firms.

Of the three actors, the General Staff Armaments Department has garnered the largest amounts of hard-currency earnings. Partly because of its success but probably more because of the particular leaders involved in these transactions, it appears to have the most latitude in conducting such exchanges. The observable patterns, however, do not follow predictable institutional lines, but instead derive from the close family connections of these military entrepreneurs. The most frequently cited cases concern He Ping, a lead official in Polytechnologies and the son-in-law of Deng Xiaoping, and He Pengfei, director of the General Staff's Armaments Department and the son of He Long. Both organizations work under a cloak of secrecy, frequently working through umbrella import-export organizations such as the China International Trade and Investment Corporation (CITIC). The success of these officials demonstrates the capacity of different parts of the bureaucracy to "end run" the indus-


trial ministries by defense marketing activities, enabling the services to retain export earnings that would otherwise be unavailable to them. The precise portion of earnings retained by the services or the General Staff, and the uses to which these earnings are put, are subject to widely divergent estimates. But a profit-oriented military establishment reflects the sharply altered rules of the game. An entrepreneurial system does not necessarily produce a more technologically innovative defense force, but it does underscore the shifting locus of power within the armed forces.

A clear task for future research is to attempt to examine the effects of the weapons-sale process on the military system as a whole. The key questions include these: Where does financial control reside within the military system? Who allocates which resources, and are the purposes and consequences predominantly personal or institutional? Are these shifts in military behavior likely to manifest themselves over time in the form of increased demands for more sophisticated weapons systems being produced in Chinese factories? How has the incentive structure changed for both consumer and producer, and are there means by which profit motivations and military needs can be reconciled?

Another illustrative case concerns the canceled J-8 II avionics transaction with the United States. The total package, undertaken through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, was to have totaled $550 million. One close observer of this process likened the scale of the project to the B-1 program in the United States. Although this probably overstated the costs for China, it was a major undertaking and by far the largest collaborative agreement with the United States in the defense sector. Yet the agreement was not well received by all portions of the military R & D apparatus, especially within the aviation industry, since the project did not entail the transfer of production know-how for the complex electronics packages that represented the heart of the transaction. From a service perspective, however, the prospect of the acquisition of more advanced avionics—even for a limited number of a prototype aircraft—was judged worth the risks and uncertainties. The project's cancellation in May 1990 reflected the escalating costs that the Chinese deemed unacceptable; some in China also appeared to believe that the United States was simply unprepared to implement the full scope of the agreement.[46]

Despite the cancellation of the project, this effort at foreign collaboration reflects the diminished power of China's indigenous military industrial system. Confronted by specific commercial and technological opportunities, the top levels of decision making slighted the interests of the ministries. As a result, numerous enterprises that previously concentrated


on defense production now devote principal attention to civilian manufacture. Many defense enterprises, however, remain uncomfortable with the civilian market and have sought ways to sustain their military production capabilities. In one of his major commentaries on national defense modernization while overseer of the R & D process, Zhang Aiping spoke of the need to establish "a state mobilization working system for wartime." Zhang concluded:

While carrying out national economic construction, we should consider the way to make peacetime construction conform with the material needs during future warfare. Peacetime construction ... should make necessary preparations for meeting the demands of war. Otherwise, once war breaks out, there will not be enough time to build factories and institutes for manufacturing various kinds of weapons and facilities or to build roads and bridges. ... We should do our best to integrate peacetime and wartime demand.[47]

Such comments leave unsettled the readiness of all portions of the military system to shift conclusively away from its long-standing practices and habits.

Despite these uncertainties, those responsible for long-term planning viewed the more constrained budgetary and investment climate as an opportunity rather than a problem. In an environment much less supportive of open-ended, frequently duplicative military allocations, the separate components of the military R & D process acquired incentives to collaborate rather than compete. This is the logic of more centrally coordinated and administered planning arrangements. In the deliberations over the Seventh Five-Year Plan, defense procurement fared very poorly. Since that time, senior defense planners have sought to introduce for the first time mechanisms geared toward long-range military planning. This effort is in contrast to the annual and five-year planning cycles and explicitly seeks to coordinate research and development activities to the year 2000 and beyond.

According to interviews with those involved in this process, the PLA is endeavoring for the first time to create a mechanism across all relevant bureaucracies to guide defense-technology planning from concept to final implementation. This effort entails a coordinated effort in all areas of potential military need (both technology related and service oriented), with subsequent reports purportedly serving as guidance for decision making and resource allocation. This effort is coordinated by COSTIND, with extensive participation by all relevant military bureaucracies. Even conceding the incentives for constituent organizations to inflate their importance


portance and needs, the very fact of such an exercise may prove more important than its actual results.

To the extent that this planning effort clarifies choices among alternatives and erodes a tradition of separatism widespread within the military, it seems likely to prove a valuable exercise. Regardless of any specific policy outcomes, it will help prepare the defense R & D system much more fully and effectively for the next five-year plan. Indeed, some military spokesmen openly hint at expectations of receiving an increased "return" on the deferral of major procurement decisions during the 1980s and see the next decade as a more promising period. The PLA's vital support for Deng and his political allies in the crisis of 1989 assumes obvious importance in this regard, with the announced defense budget increases for 1990 representing a "down payment" for services rendered by the military.

Some Preliminary Conclusions

The Chinese armed forces are in the midst of major challenge. Spurred by Deng Xiaoping's belief that the PLA had lost much of its credibility as an institution and was degrading China's claim to great-power status, the army (at Deng's behest) began to explore different directions. Part of these changes were a consequence of the gradual passing of a legendary generation of revolutionary-era generals, but Deng's determination was the principal spur to change. To achieve his goals, Deng required a senior military leadership accountable to him, a long-term plan to achieve necessary institutional reforms (especially in the personnel system), and the creation of pockets of innovation on which these changes could build.

Deng's accomplishments in these areas proved measurable, especially during the mid and late 1980s. But these new directions bred different problems and pressures. Elements of more traditional patterns of power and authority continued to abound, even as younger generations of officers were restive and increasingly resentful of arrangements and understandings at the top. The military became more professionalized and regularized, but there was still no escape from personalism, especially at the apex of the system. The familial ties within the military system suggest that advancement in the army may remain a matter more of inheritance than of competence.

At the same time, major uncertainties persist about the PLA's longer-term relationship with the Party. Even as the military leadership sought to impart a new organizational ethos, political control remained paramount, inhibiting truly autonomous institutional development. As the events of May and June 1989 amply demonstrated, organization charts


and formal lines of authority proved very imperfect indicators of the structure of power in China. The declaration of martial law and the subsequent resort to force derived from ad hoc arrangements rather than any regular decision-making procedures. Military command and control under crisis circumstances served as a telling reminder that China remains devoid of institutionalized mechanisms to constrain the exercise of power.

Five dimensions of PLA behavior during the crisis of May and June 1989 illustrate the absence of such mechanisms: (1) the nonutilization of available procedures (for example, the convening of a regular rather than an "enlarged" Military Commission meeting) that could be expected to govern military behavior under extreme circumstances; (2) the intrusion of leaders without formal military responsibility (in particular, Premier Li Peng and the leadership of the Beijing Municipal People's Government) into armed forces channels, especially through the Martial Law Command organized by Chi Haotian; (3) Deng Xiaoping's absence from direct participation in numerous key military decisions, although nearly all actions appeared to have his concurrence, with Yang Shangkun serving as the transmission belt and executive agent; (4) Deng's extraordinary action of redeploying troop units from other military regions (especially Shenyang and Jinan) to Beijing and its environs, thereby assuring compliance with directives issued in the name of the CMC; and (5) the predominant reliance of the martial law authorities on main-force units and strategic reserves, effectively bypassing Beijing-based units, whose political loyalties and willingness to comply with leadership directives were judged more questionable. By resorting to these extralegal arrangements justified through quasi-statutory procedures and regulations, the proponents of martial law totally outmaneuvered those Party and army leaders who voiced reservations about the possible use of force.

The critical issues of the crisis pertained, however, not to legality or procedure, but to a preemptive bid for power by forces opposed to Zhao Ziyang's ultimate assumption of supreme decision-making authority. It seems entirely possible that a majority of the then extant executive committee of the Military Commission (Zhao Ziyang, Yang Shangkun, Hong Xuezhi, Liu Huaqing, and Qin Jiwei) would have opposed or seriously questioned the decision to impose martial law. Deng and Yang very likely knew they were outvoted, which compelled them to resort to "out of channel" arrangements that preempted the opposition.

At the same time, the use of force (drawing heavily but not exclusively from units of the Twenty-seventh Army that were totally unprepared for crowd control) underscored the unstinting loyalty of mobilized PLA units to Deng and Yang's orders, no matter how abhorrent the circum-


stances. Despite persistent reports of impending civil war between rival forces, very few units balked at implementing the orders of the martial law commanders. Even under extreme duress and confusion, the system held, and no collapse in state power took place. It remains to be seen whether comparable loyalty could be guaranteed in another leadership crisis. The near-total turnover of regional commanders in the spring of 1990 (with most new commanders brought into their assignments from other military regions) suggests a greatly heightened effort to assure loyalty and responsiveness to orders from the top, and to avoid manifestations of localism.[48]

In the aftermath of the Tiananmen crisis, the basis of the authority in the Chinese armed forces needs to be carefully reassessed. Personal loyalties and relationships proved decisive in the 1989 upheavals, with recent efforts to introduce regular channels and procedures for decision making shelved. Although it is too early to judge the longer-term consequences for the attempted institutionalization of military policy, the system in crisis reverted to a preexisting form, calling into question the true extent of organizational change. Even as the age of the regional and district commanders continues to decline and their professional skills continue to improve, political loyalty to the Center remains the paramount criterion for career advancement.

With the inevitable passing of Deng, Yang, and other senior leaders, however, the pressures for change will increase, especially from younger officers with a large stake in the future development of the armed forces. The capacity of the supreme military leadership to effect this transition without engendering a major crisis will remain crucial to the future of the Chinese political system.


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