China Leadership Monitor

Civil-Military Relations and the EP-3 Crisis: A Content Analysis

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

The conduct of the Chinese government during the recent EP-3 crisis raised important questions about the state of civil-military relations in China. Observers at the time were divided as to whether the comments of senior military leaders and editorials in military newspapers were different in content than their civilian counterparts. They were also divided over whether these differences reflected only variations in propaganda or actual institutional divergence. In addition, most analysts seemed convinced that the military monopolized critical information flows to the leadership, especially data about the causes of the collision and the lack of mayday calls by the EP-3, thus tying the hands of Foreign Ministry negotiators and perhaps even unnecessarily drawing out the crisis. Using interviews, some secondary sources, and detailed content analysis of civilian and military media during the crisis, this essay explores these themes.