China military ordered to pledge 'absolute' loyalty to President Xi Jinping
This has become a mantra that is being repeated ad nauseam by the Chinese Party ever since Xi Jinping took over. That shows that there is trouble within the PLA.
There is no surprise here. Xi aggressively downsized PLA Army as part of the strategy to vastly expand the naval power and the strategic forces. The top Chinese leaders have carefully studied war history, especially the history of Europe as Alfred Thayer Mahan did, and are convinced that seapower is essential for conquering the world and re-establishing the Middle Kingdom, this time much larger than the mere periphery that Imperial China was interested in. The PLA Army is not of much use in his venture, only the naval forces and stand-off rocketry.
If some General Secretaries of the CPC, including Chairman Mao, have struggled to keep a tight leash over the PLA, Xi Jinping seems to have a bigger problem. This is surprising, on one count, because he has been associated with the PLA from his young party apparatchik days. He has worked with many current PLA Generals who were at that time in junior positions. But, on another count, his aggressive anti-corruption drive that hit several top PLA leadership and his immense downsizing of the PLA Army in just one go, have created problems for him.
These were clearly evident recently. Xi also revamped the CMC during the 19th Congress reducing its strength from 11 to 8. The three service chiefs were excluded though the Rocket Force Chief (the fourth service line that Xi introduced in 2016) was in. Just weeks before the 19th Congress, Xi had ousted the topmost CMC General (next only to Xi who is, of course, the Commander), Gen. Fang Fenghui, along with his deputy, Gen. Zhang Yang (who was the Director of the military’s Political Work Department), who were both members of the CMC, on charges of corruption. The three deputies of Zhang Yang were also removed from the list of nearly 250 PLA delegates to the 19th CPC Congress. Gen. Fang Fenghui’s removal as PLA Chief happened on the same day as the Doka La stand-off with India came to an end triggering off speculation that the stand-off might have earned the General the displeasure of Xi Jinping. It is worth recalling that before Fang was elevated as PLA Chief, he was the Commander of the Chengdu Military Region which was responsible for India borders.
However, IMO, Gen. Fenghui's removal may not have much (or even anything) to do with Doka La. Along with Fenghui, the Chief of Political Work Department, Gen. Zhang Yang, and his three deputies were also removed. This is significant because the Political Work Department serves as the bridge between the CPC and the PLA. The PLA is after all not a national force but a Party force. Their first loyalty is to the Party. Therefore, Gen. Zhang Yang's removal denotes that "Xi's Thoughts" and his "Four Comprehensives" had not been sufficiently appreciated within the PLA necessitating in a wholesale removal. This also means that there is resistance within the PLA for Xi's governance.
We know of unprecedented purge in political leadership by Xi, like Bo Xilai (a Politburo member), Zhou Yongkang (an ex-PSC member and internal security chief under Hu Jintao), Ling Jihua (Chief of Staff to Hu Jintao), Sun Zhengcai et al. In mid-2016 news emerged of Jiang Zemin's son being under house arrest.
But, military generals have been equally purged. It is not a coincidence that both Generals (Fenghui & Yang) were elevated to their position by Hu. Xi had already gotten rid of two Hu top Generals two years earlier. One was Gen Guo Boxiong, Vice Chairman of CMC (as high as it gets). Gen. Guo had been the Vice Chairman of CMC for ten long years. Another was Xu Caihou, another Vice Chairman of the CMC. Both were reputed to be Jiang Zemin's men. In August, 2016, Gen. Wang Jianping, deputy to Gen. Fang Fenghui, was removed on corruption charges.
Xi has consistently disregarded warnings from both Ziang and Hu about the anti-corruption drive. After purging Jiang's and Hu's men, Xi should be feeling very confident now.
It is in this context that we have to look at the Daulat Beg Oldi sector incident when PLA troops incurred just ahead of Li Keqiang's India visit in c. 2013. Li's visit came after Xi had personally requested Man Mohan Singh at the Durban meeting of BRICS in March, 2013 to somehow squeeze in Li's visit before May itself. It is inconceivable that Xi would have also ordered his Army to incur at the same time after such a personal request and even as the two leadership had not yet established much of a contact. The incursion continued for 21 days and put Li's visit in jeoardy. This was soon followed by the Chumar incident which occurred on June 17, 2013 just two weeks before the first ever visit by an Indian defence minister (A.K.Antony) in seven years. During the Chinese President, Xi Jinping’s state visit in September 2014, there were two incidents in Depsang and again Chumar. In fact, the Chumar incident rapidly spun out of control and a thousand troops each were deployed along the LAC facing each other. The embarrassing (for Xi Jinping) stand-off continued even as Xi was a guest of the State in India. This showed Xi in very poor light that he was unable to control his own Army. After Xi returned to Beijing, he called for the PLA to completely obey the CPC, an admission of disobedience.
Ever since then, these calls to PLA to show total obedience have been regular and frequent. The above is the latest in this series.