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Xi orders strengthening party control of armed forces in wake of Russia’s Wagner mutiny

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(, Jul23’23) – While calling the recent short-lived mutiny from a section or faction of the Russian army led by the Wagner Group and its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin last month an internal matter and seeing itself as immune from the possibility of any such tumultuous development, China has made a series of moves in its aftermath to further strengthen party control over the armed forces. Indeed, President Xi Jinping has avowed his firm adherence to Mao’s dictum that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

Most recently, Xi has called a meeting in Beijing over Jul 20-21 of the country’s top brass for strengthening the Party building work in the armed forces and ordered them to renew their efforts to eliminate corruption, calling on them to reassert the Communist Party’s absolute leadership over the armed forces, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency Jul 21.

Xi stressed breaking new ground in enhancing the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) over the armed forces to provide a strong political guarantee for achieving the centenary goal of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the report said.

He has emphasized concentrating efforts on addressing prominent issues faced by Party organizations at all levels, in aspects such as maintaining the Party’s absolute leadership over the military and ensuring stronger combat readiness.

He Weidong, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and vice chairman of the CMC (Central Military Commission, of which Xi is the Chairman), has emphasized the importance of fully implementing the system of ultimate responsibility resting with the CMC chairman, sharpening the military’s capabilities of combat readiness, strengthening its organizational system, improving conduct, enforcing discipline and combating corruption.

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The meeting included most members of the CMC – China’s top military decision-making body – as well as the heads of its departments and bodies, leaders of theatre commands and top personnel from each service branch, noted the Jul 22.

It was stated to be the third gathering of its kind since Xi became CMC chairman in 2012, with the first taking place in 2013 and the second in 2018.

The report said Xi also used those meetings to underscore the need for party loyalty from the military, a condition the party sees as a matter of regime survival.

Xi has written and spoken about the “cautionary tale” of the erstwhile Soviet Union’s Communist Party losing command of its armed forces, leading to the collapse of the Cold War bloc.

The report added that Xi had underlined that message at the latest gathering by referring to an address he gave to hundreds of senior military officials in the small town of Gutian, Fujian province, in 2014.

During that meeting, he invoked former Chinese leader Mao Zedong when he said the party must “command the gun”.

Gutian was chosen because it was where Mao established the system of political commissars, a network of party officers who ensured the military remained loyal (to the party), the report noted.

PLA Daily, the official newspaper of China’s military, has published on Jul 22 an editorial on the Jul 20-21 meeting, reinforcing the party’s leadership over the military.

“History tells us that whenever the party’s leadership and party-building are well established and strong, the revolutionary cause will progress smoothly with victories,” it was quoted as saying. “Otherwise, it will see setbacks, suffer losses or even fail.”

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In his role as the CMC chairman, Xi has established himself in a dominant role of party supervision with his “commission chairman responsibility system”.

While the editorial did not define that system, the newspaper did say in 2014 that it meant all major issues about national defence and military development must be decided and finalised by the chairman, the report noted.

Propaganda promoting party leadership over the military has become more explicit and pervasive under Xi, who became the party leader in 2012.

“The crux of absolute loyalty to the party is the word ‘absolute’. It must be exclusive, full, unconditional loyalty, with no impurities or pretence,” the Jul 1 quoted Xi as having said in his 2014 PLA political work meeting in Gutian.

That report cited Song Zhongping, a former instructor with the PLA, as saying the Chinese military was likely to push even harder for political education of troops, stressing the Communist Party’s leadership over armed forces.

“The system and institutions are different, and it shows our superiority,” he has said, comparing the Russian and Chinese militaries after the Wagner rebellion. He has also said he expected the PLA to expand “party education” among its ranks after the mutiny.

The PLA traces its history as the party’s armed wing, and China’s current National Defence Law states that its foremost mission is to consolidate party leadership and the socialist system.


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