NEW PUBLICATION: China Security Perspectives - Assessing the PLA's role in Elite Politics
China Strategic Perspectives Issue No. 2
"Civil Military Relations in China: Assessing the PLA's Role in Elite Politics"
by Michael Kiselyncznyk and Phillip C. Saunders, Center for Strategic Research
This study reviews the last 20 years of academic literature on the role of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Chinese elite politics. It examines the PLA’s willingness to support the continued rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and to obey directives from top party leaders, the PLA’s influence on the selection of China’s top civilian leaders, and the PLA’s ability to shape the domestic political environment. Over the last two decades the discussion of these three issues has largely been shaped by five trends identified in the literature: increasing PLA professionalism, bifurcation of civil and military elites, a reduced PLA role in political institutions, reduced emphasis on political work within the PLA, and increased military budgets. Together, these trends are largely responsible for the markedly reduced role of the PLA in Chinese elite politics.
The theoretical models of Chinese civil-military relations that exist within the literature during the period divide into three distinctive categories. “Traditional models” including the Factional, Symbiosis, Professionalism, and Party Control models, dominate the literature from 1989 to 1995. Scholars worked to integrate information becoming available as the PRC opened to the world into these already existing models of Chinese civil-military relations. However, evolving political dynamics within the PRC following Tiananmen marginalized the utility of the models. From 1995 to 1997 many scholars argued that these traditional models should not be considered mutually exclusive but complementary. This concept of a “combination model” was short lived as it became increasingly apparent that even a combination of traditional models had little predictive or even explanatory power in light of rapidly changing political dynamics. Two new models, the Conditional Compliance and State Control models, emerged in the period of 1997–2003. Both incorporated elements of the traditional models while attempting to address the implications of new political and military dynamics in the PRC.
Examining the predictions of these models against four case studies involving major developments in civil-military relations, we found that although each model had some descriptive and explanatory power, none possessed strong predictive ability. The traditional models help explain the PLA’s reaction to intensified Party control following Tiananmen, but none was able to predict how Chinese civil-military relations evolved subsequently. Civil-military models offered their most specific (and ultimately least accurate) predictions regarding the leadership succession from Deng Xiaoping to Jiang Zemin. Most models predicted a strong role for the PLA in the succession that did not materialize. This was the period when traditional civil-military models began to run up against the reality of changing political dynamics within the PRC.Learn more......
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