Dr. Thomas Lairson Professor of Political Science XI Jinping This is a collection of materials relating to the leader of the Chinese Communist Party and President of China, XI Jinping. Nyt

New Chinese Leader Burnishing His Military Support

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New Chinese Leader Burnishing His Military Support

Published: March 3, 2013

HONG KONG — On the eve of the National People’s Congress, the chief of China’s Communist Party, Xi Jinping, is emphasizing his role as a champion of the military, using the armed forces to cement his political authority and present a tough stance in growing territorial disputes with American allies in the Pacific region.

China's leaders attended the opening session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing on Sunday.

Mr. Xi will be appointed president at the end of the Congress, the party-run parliament that opens Tuesday for an annual session of about 10 days. The 2,987 carefully vetted delegates are also virtually certain to approve another rise in military spending, after an 11.2 percent increase to $106 billion in the 2012 defense budget. The new budget is expected to show another robust increase, probably in the same vicinity as last year, Western analysts said.

Since Mao Zedong rode to victory in a revolutionary war, the country’s Communist leaders have regarded an utterly loyal military as the ultimate shield of their political power. Nearly four months since his appointment as party chief in November, Mr. Xi has made that shield his own, with greater speed and sureness than his recent predecessors.

“Compared with the two previous leaders at a similar stage, Xi has already established closer, better relations with the military. They didn’t come to power with the same confidence,” said Chen Ziming, an independent commentator in Beijing who studies party affairs.

Beyond being the only member of the powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee to also sit on the Central Military Commission, Mr. Xi already leads the military body, which controls the People’s Liberation Army.

Mr. Xi is taking over from Hu Jintao, who had to wait two years before his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, handed him chairmanship of the Central Military Commission. Mr. Jiang dealt gingerly with the military in his first years as leader, Mr. Chen said, overshadowed by the party patriarch Deng Xiaoping.

Since succeeding Mr. Hu as party chief and military chairman in November, Mr. Xi has visited army units or met commanders and troops at least nine times, according to state news reports. His activities included a brief trip on a new naval destroyer that is deployed in the South China Sea, and meeting commanders of the Second Artillery Corps, which manages China’s strategic missiles, including nuclear weapons.

Mr. Xi has also assumed charge of a secretive civilian-military group steering strategy in maritime disputes, particularly the clash with Japan over a cluster of barren islands in the East China Sea, according to Western analysts.

The Chinese military owes its paramount loyalty to the party and its leader, not the civilian government. In private, Mr. Xi has said absolute military obedience to the party is essential to ensuring the Chinese Communist Party is not wiped out like its Soviet counterpart.

“Any paramount leader needs the support of the P.L.A. and makes gestures in that direction. I think that’s what Xi’s doing,” said Andrew Scobell, a senior political scientist for the RAND Corporation who studies Chinese security policy. “It’s kind of like how a kid holds onto a security blanket. The party is more secure than it thinks, but it needs that security blanket of the P.L.A.”

Mr. Xi’s background also helps to explain his relative ease with generals, said Mr. Chen, the analyst. The son of a revolutionary leader, Mr. Xi worked early on as an aide to a veteran general, Geng Biao, who served as defense minister in 1981-82.

Many Western experts believe that real Chinese military spending is higher than the publicly released number by a large degree. A Pentagon annual report to Congress last year estimated that China actually spent between $120 billion and $180 billion on its armed forces in 2011, when the official public budget for defense was $91.5 billion. Richard A. Bitzinger, a researcher at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore who studies China’s military, said he believed the public military budget now reflected actual spending with reasonable accuracy.

Even with generous budget increases, said Mr. Bitzinger, China’s military strength remains far behind that of the United States. “There’s a lot of progress in modernizing the P.L.A., but a lot of it is just a high-tech veneer that goes over a system that is still pretty conservative,” he said.

Mr. Xi has signaled that he wants to shake off the inefficiency and corruption that have undermined the military. Since taking the top party post, he has repeatedly demanded “battle readiness” from the military and sent ships and aircraft to assert China’s claims over islands also claimed by Japan.

Mr. Xi’s comments were a call to vigilance from the military, not war footing, said several experts. “He’s not beating the drums for an imminent battle. It’s all about training,” said Dennis J. Blasko, a former United States military attaché in Beijing, and author of a book, “The Chinese Army Today.”

In the view of army commanders, China remains beset by enmity and hazards and is the target of military belligerence, not its initiator.

“The United States and Japan are worried that we will catch up, and are doing their utmost to contain China’s development, and by no means should we be fooled,” said Liu Yuan, a Chinese general, in comments published by a popular Chinese newspaper, the Global Times, in February.

China’s first security priority should be “vigilance against and prevention of the West’s strategy of infiltration and subversion,” Qi Jianguo, a P.L.A. deputy chief of staff, told a party newspaper, the Study Times, in January.

The main risk presented by China’s mix of military swagger and insecurity is not a deliberately initiated conflict, analysts say. Rather, combined with poor communication between China’s opaque military and civilian bureaucracies, it could lead to missteps that spiral into dangerous confrontation.

“They’ve got a system of governance that originated in the caves of Yan’an,” from where Mao commanded his revolutionary war, said David Finkelstein, director of China Studies at CNA, a group in Alexandria, Va., that provides analysis to the United States government and military. “Frankly, China’s national security interests have expanded faster than the capacity of their extant institutions to manage.”


China’s Premier Admits Failings, but Defends Image

A flag-lowering on Monday near the Great Hall of the People, where Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China gave his final work report.

Published: March 4, 2013

BEIJING — Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China, well known for baring his emotions in public, has displayed a blend of defeatism and defensiveness as he winds down his decade in office. During a visit last month to a Muslim neighborhood here, Mr. Wen lamented that he “fell short in some tasks” to improve people’s livelihoods. “In my heart I feel guilty and constantly blame myself,” he said.
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Mr. Wen, shown comforting victims of the 2008 earthquake, has been struggling to shore up his image before he leaves office.

But his most intriguing comments have touched on corruption. During a cabinet meeting last month, he said that even among top officials, “abuse of power, trading power for cash, and collusion between officialdom and commerce continue unabated.” And in a vague mea culpa before a group of overseas Chinese in Thailand late last year, Mr. Wen admitted to unidentified failings but defended his integrity by paraphrasing an ancient Chinese statesman said to have taken his own life to protest imperial corruption. “In the pursuit of truth, I would die nine times without regret,” he said.

With his retirement looming at the end of the annual meeting of China’s legislature that begins Tuesday, Mr. Wen, 70, has been struggling to push through economic changes and to shore up his image as a frugal populist and one of the few Communist Party leaders to champion political reform, even if that push has come to naught. But he has also has been pressing hard to clear his name, particularly in the months since The New York Times published accounts of the way his immediate family had become extraordinarily rich during his time in high office.

Just days after the first of the two newspaper reports was published in late October, Mr. Wen asked the top party leadership to investigate the assertions about his family’s business dealings and to publicize the results, according to several people with high-level party ties. In a letter to members of the Politburo Standing Committee, Mr. Wen staunchly defended himself and his family and offered to submit to punishment if they were found to have violated laws or disciplinary rules that, in theory, hold top leaders responsible for relatives who trade on their proximity to power.

At one point, according to two of these people, Mr. Wen even suggested he might not deliver his final work report in the Great Hall of the People on Tuesday if he was not vindicated, although in the end he did speak.

Senior leaders rebuffed Mr. Wen’s request for an investigation at the time, the party insiders said, and according to two of these people, China’s new party leader, Xi Jinping, has expressed his support to Mr. Wen and encouraged him to complete his job.

The Times investigation documented what many Chinese business executives and party insiders have long gossiped about: that Mr. Wen’s wife, son and brother, among other close relatives, had amassed enormous assets, at one point amounting to at least $2.7 billion, mostly through interests in the insurance and gemstone industries. The articles detailed the way Mr. Wen’s relatives had benefited from their political connections, but they found no evidence that Mr. Wen had profited personally or committed specific improprieties related to the business deals.

To his many supporters in China, the articles have reinforced portrayals of Mr. Wen as a tragic idealist who could not effectively manage his own family, let alone the country. But critics, who include dissidents and leftists, have called him a hypocrite befitting the label of China’s “best actor,” an epithet Mr. Wen acquired within the Chinese blogosphere in recent years.

“It throws into doubt his clean, upright image and adds to the impression that he’s helpless and lacks credibility,” said Liu Suli, a prominent commentator who owns a bookstore in the capital.

Mr. Wen, the son of a teacher whose family was viciously persecuted in the Cultural Revolution, trained as a geologist and rose from obscurity to lead the party Central Committee’s General Office from 1985 to 1993. Toeing the party line as political winds shifted, he survived the purge of two liberal party chiefs he served.

In his 10 years as prime minister, Mr. Wen cultivated a public persona as Grandpa Wen, an emotive guardian of the underclass and a lyrical defender of essential liberties. But he was increasingly seen as an outlier among the party leadership.


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