The rise of China’s military-industrial complex
“Military reform” has been one of President Xi Jinping’s key messaging themes since he took the top job as general secretary of the Party in November 2012. “Reform” was one of the top 20 terms in Xi’s hour-long speech to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on August 1 this year. We’re starting to see exactly what “reform” means:
- Stamping out graft: Ending the worst excesses of corruption in the military.
- The PLA’s absolute loyalty to the Communist Party: A subject of ongoing propaganda emphasis.
- Prepared to fight: In 2016, Xi called on the PLA to be “capable of winning wars.” At a July 30 military parade this year, Xi told troops to “be ready to assemble at the first call and be capable of fighting and winning any battle.”
- Professionalized: Observer of Chinese elite politics and Brookings Institute senior fellow Cheng Li 李成 recently observed that the huge turnover of senior military leaders expected at the upcoming 19th Party Congress will represent “significant strides” in Xi’s campaign to professionalize the military, and to transform China’s defense organizations “from a Soviet-style, army-centric system toward what analysts call a ‘Western-style joint command.’”
A fifth plank of military reform was first introduced to the public in January 2017, when a new central government commission — headed by Xi Jinping — to oversee “integrated military and civilian development” was announced.
- What was the aim? Reuters explained that its purpose was the development of a Chinese “military-industrial complex, much like the United States has done, to ensure a powerful armed forces commensurate with its place in the world.”
- On September 22, a speech by Xi Jinping to the Central Commission for Integrated Military and Civilian Development was the top story in all central state media (Chinese, English). Xi emphasized that “the military must give up the traditional mindset of building a closed logistics system,” and work with non-military partners in technology and logistics.
- To showcase the new strategy, Beijing is this week holding an Integrated Military and Civilian Development Technology and Equipment Exhibition, at which 354 companies from across China are displaying 422 new logistics and defense technologies.
Guancha.cn, a privately run news and commentary website that is usually enthusiastic about the Party line, headlined its website today with a story (in Chinese) about the civilian and military exhibition, and said that all 422 exhibits were “blackware” or “black technology” (黑科技 hēi kējì) — a slang term from online comics that refers to alien weapons and technology so advanced that earthlings have no way of understanding them.