Who is forcing the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops to get beaten black and blue at the hands of the Indian Army soldiers? Who is forcing the PLA to get itself embarrassed near Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea or get shooed away now and then in the hotly-contested South China Sea? For many, the show of Chinese military might gets associated with hot-headed PLA Generals.
However, in reality, the Chinese PLA is being pushed into a tight spot by none other than the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General-Secretary Xi Jinping. The incumbent CCP General-Secretary Xi Jinping wants to become the most overbearing power in the People’s Republic of China since the CCP Founder Mao Zedong. Jinping has, therefore, taken full hold of not only the CCP but also its armed wing- the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Therefore, Xi Jinping has declared himself as the Chairman of every single department in China’s body politic. He has also installed himself as the Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This virtually means that Xi Jinping takes over all of PLA’s operational functions. He has created a top-down approach wherein Xi Jinping as the PLA Commander-in-Chief gets to decide everything from declaring war to the deployment of troops, and even promotion of senior officers.
But is Xi Jinping capable of handling an entire military force? We are afraid, no. Jinping has the little military experience to back up his lofty PLA ambitions. In the 1980s, he was the Personal Assistant to China’s Defence Minister. But that hardly makes Xi Jinping a military strategist.
Nevertheless, Xi Jinping went ahead to take control of the Chinese PLA. In 2015, Xi Jinping forced through some organisational changes in the PLA. The seven military regions in China were restructured into five Theatre Commands (TCs) that are designed supposedly to take on regional threats. Each TC has elements from the Army, Air Force, Navy and conventional missiles.
But here’s the catch. A new Joint Command and Control mechanism was also set up at the apex level- the Central Military Commission (CMC). The CMC is an all-powerful body that coordinates responses to regional crises and preparations for warfare with the TCs. And who is the Chairman of CMC? Xi Jinping, himself.
Within the CMC also, the PLA has been cut to size- the number of members having been brought down from eleven to seven. The Service Chiefs have been kicked out, apparently because Xi Jinping is an ace-military strategist who doesn’t need any advice. And two former members whom Xi Jinping didn’t like have been purged because they were ‘corrupt’.
To make it clear to the PLA top brass that he won’t be tolerating insubordination, Xi Jinping also appointed a Director of Political Work and a Secretary of the Discipline Inspection Commission to the CMC. Xi Jinping is making it clear that the PLA is nothing more than an armed wing of the CCP and that the PLA must not try to cross the dangerous red line.
So, early into his tenure, Xi Jinping overwhelmed the PLA. By 2015, he restructured the PLA according to his desired top-down model. And then came PLA’s suicidal missions. With little regard for PLA’s combat inexperience and physical timidity, the CCP General-Secretary started throwing PLA troops into tough conflicts.
Xi Jinping’s PLA experiments started with Doklam when the PLA troops were made to stand up to Indian Army’s battle-hardened soldiers. The Chinese PLA, of course, returned with a bloody nose. However, Xi Jinping has a point to prove- he wants to show how he has raised a world-class military force.
Therefore, when Xi Jinping started his second tenure as the Chinese President, he asked the PLA to be combat-ready and focus on ‘how to win wars’. However, Xi’s call for combat-readiness has done more harm than good. Military sources in China attribute frequent accidents involving air assets to CCP General-Secretary Xi’s call for strengthening “combat readiness”, which is bringing to surface inexperience and technical defects.
A source close to the PLAAF told SCMP, “[If these problems are not resolved], it is foreseeable that more accidents will happen because the top brass is pushing for more drills and exercises across the military.”
Xi Jinping remains desperate to assert his military might, which often shows in threats to invade Taiwan or attempts to play bully in the South China Sea or the East China Sea. However, Xi Jinping’s biggest ambition is to let the PLA take on the Indian Army in the Himalayas. This has most recently led to the PLA troops being sent on suicide missions to the Line of Actual Control- the de facto India-Tibet (China-administered) border, along with Eastern Ladakh.
On June 15, the PLA troops tried to face off with the Indian Army at the Galwan Valley, which led to a bloodbath resulting in 20 casualties on India’s side and far greater casualties on China’s side. Yet, the PLA was again sent for an action in Southern Pangong Tso that again led to China getting a bloody nose.
The PLA was never a glorious military power. Its institutional role is to serve as a bunch of CCP henchmen. The PLA has more experience in violating human rights than fighting wars. And the last war that the PLA fought against Vietnam in 1979, too, had resulted in a Chinese defeat. However, Xi Jinping’s top-down approach is only hurting it further. The PLA’s weaknesses are now getting exposed even as Jinping tries to become the absolute power in China.