In examining the origins, characteristics, and likely future course of a “more assertive” China, many analysts point to the supposedly growing role of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Beijing’s foreign policy process. For such observers, the PLA is a conservative, highly nationalistic, and increasingly capable and confident actor in the Chinese political system and is the main force behind a range of more assertive and confrontational actions undertaken by Beijing in recent years. This article assesses what is reliably known about the role of the PLA in China’s foreign policy processes. It reviews the changing relationship of the PLA to the overall PRC leadership system and political power structure in China and focuses on the organizational and procedural relationship of the PLA to the foreign policy process in particular.
Two major political developments in recent weeks have played an important role in Taiwan’s presidential election: Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to Washington and the problems she encountered convincing American officials she has a workable formula to manage cross-Strait relations, and Ma Ying-jeou’s sudden promotion of the idea of “facing” the issue of a cross-Strait peace accord sometime in the next 10 years, which created a tempest in the campaign teapot. Although Washington strove to temper any impression that it was “taking sides” in the election, the concerns about management of cross-Strait relations remained. The United States went ahead with the much anticipated and very sizable arms sales, and while the PRC protested loudly, it took minimal actions in response. Instead, Beijing began to focus more publicly on the Taiwan political scene, speaking out more and more explicitly about the consequences of an administration in Taipei that did not accept some version of “one China” and oppose Taiwan independence. While there were still limits to how bluntly the PRC position was phrased in order to avoid triggering charges of blatant involvement in the election, concern over the actual outcome began to outweigh concerns about the Mainland’s image on Taiwan, and Beijing was increasingly direct in pointing out that there was no way around the “one China” issue.
Liu Yuan and Xi Jinping clearly share a great deal in common. Both were born to senior CCP cadres, and are members of the elite “princelings” cohort. Yet both men’s fathers were subjected to purge and mistreatment during the late Mao era, and both families suffered grievously. Despite these dark memories, both went on to achieve rapid growth in their official careers, and both have been outspoken in their extolling of the early years of the CCP revolution. As Xi prepares to ascend to the highest positions in the political system at the 18th Party Congress, this article endeavors to profile Liu Yuan, identify his possible ideological and bureaucratic intersections with Xi Jinping, and assess the implications for PLA promotions and party-military relations in the Xi era.
Over the last year there has been an increasing emphasis on “social management” as a way of managing increasing social tensions in Chinese society. Indeed, the effort the CCP is putting into publicizing this concept underscores high-level concerns. Although these concerns cannot be attributed to the Arab spring or other global events, such social movements certainly make the CCP leadership more wary about the ways in which external political changes might stimulate domestic incidents, especially given the growing role of social media. Although this emphasis on social management should not be seen as the government giving up on the modest efforts at political reform it has been undertaking in recent years, it does suggest that the government sees other measures as more important in the short run.
Worries continue to swirl around the Chinese and global economies, but the news from China in the third quarter of 2011 was basically positive: Inflationary pressures eased while growth slowed only slightly. Moreover, surface indicators of the health of China’s financial system remained stable and even improved slightly. These developments took some of the pressure off policy-makers, and opened up new space for policy adjustment and innovation. This has allowed China to make some adjustment around macroeconomic policy, loosening it slightly. However, large shifts in macroeconomic policy—of the sort expected by some in the global investment community—are not likely to occur soon. The overall economic environment is still challenging, and there is increasing evidence of complex interactions among different parts of the financial system, interactions that may not be fully understood. Moreover, today’s policy decisions are intertwined with important personnel changes. In fact, the man most responsible for the improvement in the financial health of China’s banks has just stepped down. The retirement of Liu Mingkang, head of the China Bank Regulatory Commission, may have profound consequences for the Chinese financial system.
The recent scheduling of the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress kicks off the long process of preparations for what will bring about a turnover in leadership generations next year. National party congresses are the most important public event in Chinese leadership politics, and their convocation involves long preparations that inevitably heat up the political atmosphere in Beijing more than a year ahead of time. This article lays out the formal processes involved in preparing for next year’s congress.
By now just about every observer knows that the Chinese leadership will undergo a major generational change at the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in the fall of 2012. The leadership transition’s actual procedures and mechanisms are less well known. This essay describes the Chinese leadership’s ongoing preparations for the transition on both the personnel and ideological fronts. It addresses two crucial questions: How will the delegates to the congress and the members of the new central committee be chosen? And how will the party’s ideological platform be formulated?