Civil-Military Relations in Today's China: Swimming in a New Sea

By Li, Nan | The China Journal, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Civil-Military Relations in Today's China: Swimming in a New Sea


Li, Nan, The China Journal


Civil-Military Relations in Today's China: Swimming in a New Sea, edited by David M. Finkelstein and Kristen Gunness. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2007. xviii + 326 pp. US$85.95 (hardcover), US$29.95 (paperback).

This edited volume addresses five set of issues. The first concerns the impacts of social changes on the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Tony Saich and Xiaobing Li show that social changes such as an aging population, increasing social inequality, massive unemployment, the erosion of healthcare, "one-child" families, gender imbalance, increased social mobility and privatization have had negative impacts on the PLA. These impacts include possible civil-military competition for a limited budget, a greater likelihood for the PLA to intervene in politics due to social unrest, difficulty in recruiting and retaining well-educated personnel and commandeering civilian resources for military use, and more disciplinary problems.

The second set of issues relates to civil-military relations at the élite level. Li Cheng finds that the new military élite is better-educated and less exposed to civilian experience, and personnel policy is more regularized due to mandatory term and age limits. But he also finds that ground-force officers are still dominant and that there are instances of nepotism such as promotion of officers who are children of high-ranking officials or who served as their personal secretaries. Zhiyue Bo, on the other hand, shows that the relationship between the provincial military élite and the provincial Party leadership is quite formalistic because of the high personnel turnover rate on both sides of the civil-military boundary and the absence of cross-boundary circulation of élites. The high turnover rate is attributed to the implementation of a personnel policy based on term and age limits and regular rotation of officials. Similarly, Yu Bin argues that the relationship between the PLA élite and China's thirdand fourth-generation Party leadership has been differentiated and stable due to professionalization on the military side, and general political stability and leadership cohesion on the civilian side. Lyman Miller, however, suggests that military professionalization may cause political tension between the PLA and Party leadership, which explains why the Party has attempted to socialize political values in the PLA against the so-called Western ploy to "departyize and depoliticize the military". But You Ji argues that official advocacy of the "party's absolute leadership of the PLA" sounds hollow because the political commissar system has been internalized in the PLA command structure. As a result, political commissars prefer to perform their PLA duties and defend PLA interests rather than to report deviation of commanders on behalf of the Party.

The third set of issues concerns professional military education (PME). Thomas Bickford and Kristen Gunness find that the PLA is quite adept at utilizing civilian resources to compensate for deficiencies of its PME. The PLA now recruits officers directly from civilian graduates, and has introduced national defense scholarships to send promising students to civilian universities. It also sends officers to civilian schools for post-graduate study and has civilian professors teaching in military schools. The downside of this approach, however, includes an increased financial burden for the PLA, more civil-military friction over educational resources, and intra-PLA tension stemming from the difficulty of adjustment for officers of civilian background, preferential treatment for these officers and diffusion of civilian values in the PLA. …

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