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New Emergency Plan Gives Military Power over Government

Why is the Chinese Central Military Commission issuing the "Army general Contingency Plan to deal with Emergencies?"

On November 14, 2006, China’s state-run media Xinhua News Agency on its website, Xinhuanet, reported that the Chinese Central Military Commission (CMC) issued Army General Contingency Plan to Deal with Emergencies. The document is similar to, but conflicts with, the National Master Plans for Responding to Public Emergencies issued by the State Council (Xinhuanet, January 8, 2006). So why did the CMC issue such a document? What is the background? What triggered the Chinese military generals to take this action?

Let’s compare the two documents.

In the State Council’s Master Plan, based on the development, characteristics, and mechanisms of public incidents, public emergencies are categorized as:

1. Natural disasters, including droughts, disastrous weather conditions, earthquakes, geological catastrophes, ocean and biological disasters, and forest and grassland fires, etc.

2. Accidents, including various safety-related accidents in factories, mines, and other business entities, traffic and transportation accidents, accidents of public infrastructures and equipment, environmental pollution, and ecologically damaging incidents, etc.

3. Public health incidents, including the breakout of infectious diseases, unidentified group sicknesses, food-safety-related and occupational incidents, breakout of infectious animal diseases, and other severe public safety and massive life-threatening incidents.

4. Social security incidents, including terrorist attacks, incidents related to economic security, and various incidents involving foreign countries.

The State Council is the supreme administrative organization for handling public incidents. Led by the premier of the State Council, the Executive Sessions of the State Council and the National Command Center for Public Incident Response will be in charge of the administrative work involved in responding to public incidents. When necessary, State Council working groups will be dispatched to guide the work.

The State Council Master Plan provides organizational guidelines for command and communication systems within the central and local governments. It stipulates that, in the event of a severe or major sudden incident, those in charge in the various regions and organizations must notify the organizations in charge immediately, within four hours at the latest, and at the same time notify any potentially involved regions and organizations. In managing the incident, progress updates must be made in a timely manner.{mospagebreak}

In the Army General Contingency Plan to Deal with Emergencies, it states that the military has five responsibilities in responding to incidents, including:

1. Handling incidents involving military conflicts.

2. Assisting the local governments to safeguard the social stability.

3. Participating in handling major terrorist attacks.

4. Participating in local disaster recovery and rescue work.

5. Participating in handling sudden incidents of public security.

When responding to incidents, the army contingency plan allows division and regiment organizations to bypass their immediate levels of leadership. This means that, in emergencies, the leadership can bypass immediate subordinates and directly take charge of lower-level organizations. The argument for such a plan is that when the sovereignty of the country and the safety of people’s lives are in jeopardy, collapsing the chain of command will enable the military to respond more rapidly to sudden incidents.

Comparing these two plans, except for the military involvement, the remaining four responsibilities are virtually the same. The creation of two such plans actually may imply that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) feels itself in danger of collapse and that the Party’s relationships with the government, the military, and the people have changed.

The CCP’s Ultimate Survival Plan: Military Takeover of the Government

The ultimate authority in managing public incidents supposedly rests with the State Council. With the new army plan in place, the State Council is being replaced with the CCP’s military. The military can handle the incidents first, and the local governments will be under quasi-military control. Evidently the military will replace the CCP organizations in responding to sudden incidents, or, at the very least, the military will dominate in such situations. The existence of this contingency plan seems to signal a potential military takeover in an emergency situation.{mospagebreak}

What does this say about the current balance of power between the Party, the government, and the military? First of all, it signals the deterioration of relations between China’s military, the State Council, and the CCP’s local governing bodies. It also highlights the suspicion and distrust of the abilities of the local governments to rapidly respond to sudden incidents. This is the reason behind the independent publication of a military contingency plan by CMC as opposed to the State Council plan. While the State Council’s plan has the merit of law and lays a legal foundation for China’s responses to emergencies, the military version does not have any legal underpinnings and relies simply on military order. Once the military controls the country, the constitution and all laws will be nullified. Second, the CCP is feeling the impact of the rapid progress of the Quit the CCP movement. In the face of the CCP’s potential collapse, the CMC’s contingency plan intends to prevent chaos if the CCP loses power by taking full control of the government in case of dramatic changes. Third, in case of sudden incidents, the military will immediately supervise or take over all the critical infrastructure, including radio and TV stations, Internet centers, banks, airports, train stations, docks, seaports, long-distance bus service, water supplies, power plants, post offices, gas stations, oil and gas reserves, grain reserves, newspapers, printing factories, important scientific and research institutions, and so on.

Learning a lesson from the collapse of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, former Chinese communist leader Deng Xiaoping initiated the open-door reform policy to develop China’s economy, hoping that economic development would overcome the shortcomings perpetuated by his Soviet counterpart and enable the CCP to maintain absolute control in China. Nevertheless, after nearly 30 years of economic development without political change, China’s social conflicts and economic crises are ever deepening, corruption is widespread, the gap between the rich and the poor is rapidly widening, its ecosystem is damaged almost beyond repair, and the crisis of worsening living conditions is threatening the very survival of the Chinese people. In the meantime, the nationwide human rights movement is gaining momentum. Even though the CCP has no solutions to these serious problems, it is not willing to give up absolute control. The CCP has realized that economic development alone will not in the long run ensure its supremacy and that it will not escape the fate of its Russian counterpart. As a result, individuals in the CCP’s most powerful circles have concluded that military control is the only way to ensure their survival.

Struggles Among Factions in the Military

There are two factions in the military. One is the Conservatives, represented by Chi Haotian, former defense minister, who is a big proponent of hard-line military suppression inside the country and military expansion around the globe to realize the CCP’s dream of everlasting total control.

Liu Yazhou represents the other faction, the Liberal Reformists. They demand that the government and the Chinese people reach some agreement to proactively advance the reform of the political system and to push China into an era of Rule by Constitution.{mospagebreak}

Both factions have powerful supporters in the military and they are fiercely opposed to each other. Given the corruption of the CCP and the ever-deepening social conflicts, is it good or bad for China’s military to issue a contingency plan at this time?

If the liberal faction in the military prevails, they would need to implement military control to end the CCP’s rule. Assuming it leads China toward democracy, freedom, and rule by constitutional law and then returns power to the people, the majority of the people in China would no doubt support such a scenario. Since May 2006, the voice of the military that proposes a military coup has been echoed several times in China Watch and Future China Forum. These sympathies must represent the liberal reformists in the military. It is one of the ways to end the CCP’s dictatorship.

If, on the other hand, the conservative faction prevails, a military coup would result in absolute control by the military—a nightmarish outcome.

The army contingency plan stipulates that divisional and regimental organizations can report incidents by bypassing their immediate leadership. In other words, divisions and regiments can bypass their regional superiors to report incidents directly to the CMC and General Staff Headquarters. Whereas the leadership can also command the lower-level organizations by bypassing their immediate subordinates probably implies that the CMC or General Staff Headquarters can command divisions and regiments directly.

This is the very first time that such a command system has been made public in peacetime during the CCP’s half-century rule.

China’s military has its own, independent communications systems—secret fiber-optic-based telephone, fax, and videophone systems, military data network, and satellite telephones. China’s military is even building videophone systems that directly link its border patrols to General Staff Headquarters. From the standpoint of communications technology, there is no obstacle to subordinate military organizations being able to report incidents to their superiors instantly. Any delays in reporting up through the chain of command would be due to human factors. Officials in the local governments, the military regions, the group armies, and the provincial troops all at one time or another purposely withhold information for their own political reasons. Alternatively, some local government officials make fake reports or cover up certain military incidents in order to maintain their excellent political records and to keep their political posts. The issuance of the Army General Contingency Plan will counter such situations by encouraging divisions and regiments to bypass their superiors to report incidents.{mospagebreak}

Furthermore, the first item in the contingency plan concerns handling incidents dealing with military conflicts. The designation military conflict incidents leaves room for interpretation. Does it mean internal conflicts within China’s own troops or conflicts with foreign military?

A look at China’s diplomatic and military relationships with its 24 neighbors precludes the possibility of conflicts with foreign military. As of today, China is not under any threat of military conflict with its neighboring countries or regions. Japan, China’s long-time foe, is still constrained by its peaceful constitution, which prevents Japanese troops from being dispatched to fight in other countries. The Russian military is hardly capable of maintaining its normal training regimen or safeguarding its own borders, let alone attacking China. Vietnam is busy developing its economy. Tired of a half-century of battles, the Vietnamese people and officials are more than willing to enjoy their peacetime and not fight with China. Taiwanese capital and technologies are pouring into China, so the Taiwanese are only interested in maintaining the peaceful status quo. North Korea has to rely on China for grain and energy to feed its people and fuel its nation in order to maintain the dictatorship of Kim Jong-Il. North Korea is in no position to fight with China. While India is developing its military, it will not likely cross the Tibetan Mountains to attack China. Other countries around China do not have the ability to or interest in mounting an attack on China. In conclusion, China is not subject to any obvious immediate external conflicts along its borders. The military conflicts, therefore, will more likely come from inside of China, more specifically, from the CCP’s military itself.

The new contingency plan includes a provision for handling incidents of military conflicts so it recognizes a need to be able to respond to a possible military coup in China. As a matter of fact, the conflicts inside China’s military have already been made public. In May 2006, while Party head Hu Jintao was inspecting the marine drill in the Yellow Sea, two other battleships bombarded the missile destroyer from which he was viewing the proceedings. He fled to Yunnan Province. The news was published in the November 2006 issue of Dongxiang Magazine (Hong Kong) as well as in the headline of the November 17, 2006, issue of World Journal, one of the top Chinese-language newspapers in North America.

Wu Fan is Chief Editor of a U.S. based Chinese web site

Translated by CHINASCOPE from