Leadership: Distracted Chinese Generals

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June 26, 2007: China is having trouble keeping its generals and admirals under control. This has always been a problem in police states. The first communist nation, the Soviet Union, solved this by killing thousands of senior military officials in the 1930s. There were side effects. The "Great Purge" was bad for morale, and hurt the nations ability to defend itself when the Germans invaded in 1941. Two decades later, the Russians tried another approach. In return for keeping their mouths shut and staying out of politics, the military was given what amounted to a blank check. Oh, there was one other detail. The promise was made, and kept, by one faction in the Communist Party, that wanted to oust, without a civil war, the then current head of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. Unfortunately, this deal led to arms race with the United States which, after two decades, wrecked the Russian economy.

The Chinese Communist Party noted the Russian experience, and sought to avoid making the same mistakes. During the 1960s and 70s, China went through a period similar to the Russian Great Purge of the 1930s. However, China's "Great Cultural Revolution" did not do as much damage to the army, and in 1976, the army backed a group of moderate Party leaders in shutting down the Cultural Revolution for good.

Since then, the military has been well taken care of. The generals were allowed to go into business when the economy was opened up in the 1980s. Unfortunately, after a decade of that, it was noted that the generals were more interested in getting rich, than in seeing to their military responsibilities. So the government shut down a lot of those businesses. The generals were not happy, but they obeyed. The generals even stepped up in 1989, when the government needed muscle to shut down massive pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital.

For the last decade, the military has received larger and larger budgets. The size of the military was cut by over a million troops and the generals and admirals were pretty much allowed to spend the money as they thought best. But now it appears that corruption, incompetence and insubordination are undercutting all this additional spending. Communist Party leaders are again unsure of the loyalty of their generals. One gets the impression, from following the Chinese media, that generals can mouth off whenever they like, without having to clear their comments with their Communist Party bosses. In theory, the main job of the military is to preserve the political power of the Party. But with all that money sloshing around in military bank accounts, many generals seem more interested in pocketing part of it, or spending it on pet projects.

A first, a few years ago, it was believed that the Chinese leadership had some mysterious plan for all the new things the generals were buying. But now it appears that there's no plan, just a shopping spree by a lot of independent minded military big-shots. It's all very expensive, and worrisome.

 


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