Xi Jinping, named Communist Party general secretary in November, reflects a new militancy. On Tuesday, he delivered a hard-edged speech to the Politburo in which he effectively ruled out compromise on territorial and security issues. His tough words were in keeping with the ever-more strident tones of his messages to the People’s Liberation Army about being ready to plan, fight, and win wars. Chinese leaders have traditionally addressed the army and urged improvement in general readiness, but, as veteran China watcher Willy Lam notes, Xi has put a special emphasis on it. Moreover, his calls on preparing for conflict go well beyond those of his two predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.The article goes on to note evidence of the increased influence and power wielded by the Chinese military, and concludes:
In the past, the military’s war talk contrasted with soothing words from senior civilian leaders. Now, with Xi, the aggressive comments from flag officers are consistent with what he, as top leader, is saying. Worse, as the Financial Times notes, Xi’s words of war are now “being bundled” with his rhetoric, which seems calculated to “fan nationalism.”
In this environment, Chinese military officers can get away with advocating “short, sharp wars” and talking about the need to “strike first.” Their boldness suggests, as some privately say, that General Secretary Xi is associating with generals and admirals who think war with the U.S. might be a good idea.
From all outward appearances, the military is already playing an expanded role in policy as well as politics. Senior officers look like they are acting independently of civilian officials, but in any event, they are openly criticizing them and are making pronouncements on areas that were once the exclusive province of diplomats.
The process of remilitarization of politics and policy has gone so far that the People’s Liberation Army could soon become the most powerful faction in the Communist Party, if it is not already. ...
Xi Jinping appears to have no power base to speak of. ... Therefore, it makes sense for him to rely on the military to consolidate a shaky position.
There is always constant bargaining when a new Chinese leader takes over, and this is especially true now because the ongoing transition did not start well. In this troubled time, we should not be surprised that the most hardline elements in Beijing look like they are free to say and do what they want.
And perhaps that’s why Chinese leaders talk war and employ bellicose tactics while they try to push China’s borders outward, taking on Japan, India, and all the nations bordering the South China Sea. At the same time, the Chinese navy is seeking to close off that critical body of water, which Beijing political leaders claim as an internal Chinese lake. State media has been hinting since the middle of 2011 that it is China’s “territorial waters.”
Beijing’s expansive territorial claims are perhaps the inevitable result of the Communist Party’s trajectory. As Pentagon consultant Edward Luttwak notes, “Militant nationalism is the only possible substitute for ex-communists who seek to retain power.” So it is natural that Xi Jinping is talking tough and that the military is assuming a frontal role in expanding territory and waters under China’s control.