Page 1 of 2 Xi's power grab dwarfs market reforms
By Willy Lam
While the recent Third Plenary Session of the 18th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee was expected to unveil major initiatives in economic liberalization, what has struck Chinese and foreign observers most is the weight that the leadership has given to enhancing state security, particularly centralizing powers in the top echelon of the party-state apparatus.
The plenum set up a National Security Committee (NSC) to better coordinate the work of departments handling functions that range from police and counter-espionage to the media and foreign affairs.
Given that apart from the NSC, President Xi will most likely also head a newly established Leading Group on the Comprehensive Deepening of Reform, the already formidable powers of the party
General Secretary and Commander-in-Chief will be augmented further.
A paragraph in the plenum communique, which was released on November 12, said that the NSC was set up to "perfect the structure of state security and national-security strategies, so as to [better] safeguard national security".
"We must improve the ways of social governance, stimulate the energy of social organizations and bring about innovation of systems to effectively prevent and end social contradictions and improve public security," the document added.
While the official media has given scant details about the NSC, it is expected to be a state organ whose status is on par with commissions and leading groups - such as the Central Military Commission and the Leading Group on Foreign Affairs (LGFA), which are also headed by Xi - that report directly to the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), China's highest ruling council.
In his explanation of the "Resolution on Certain Major Questions regarding the Comprehensive Deepening of Reforms" (hereafter "the Resolution"), the full text of which was released on November 15, Xi noted:
The NSC's main responsibilities are to formulate and implement national security strategies, to push forward legal construction on state security, and formulate the goals and policies of national security work."
Referring to the connection between external and internal threats, Xi said: "Our country faces the double pressure of protecting national sovereignty, security and developmental interests from outside [threats] and safeguarding internal political safety and social stability.
While the NSC shares its name in Chinese with the US National Security Council, it is believed to be focused primarily on internal security. This includes combating challenges posed by "hostile anti-China forces from abroad." Within the party's highest echelons, there are already two units - the LGFA and the Leading Group on National Security - that perform roles similar to that of the American National Security Council.
Reports in the non-official China media and the Hong Kong press have published several possible lists of ministries and ministerial-level units that will send senior representatives to the new body.
Each list is slightly different, but there is a substantial overlap, all of them including the following bodies: the People's Liberation Army, the People's Armed Police (PAP), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the Ministry of Trade, the Department of Propaganda and the International Liaison Department (ILD).
The NSC will be chaired by President Xi. The two Vice-Chairs are expected to be Politburo member Meng Jianzhu, who is in charge of the Central Political-Legal Commission (CPLC), the country's top law-enforcement body; and Politburo member and Director of the Central Policy Research Office Wang Huning, who is Xi's top diplomatic adviser.
Its secretary general is tipped to be either CPLC Secretary General Wang Yongqing or the Deputy Minister of Public Security Fu Zhenghua, who is deemed a Xi protege. Full details of the components of the NSC and its principal officials, however, have yet to be released by the authorities.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang linked the NSC to China's campaign against the "Three Evils", saying that the commission "will make terrorists, separatists and religious extremists very nervous". The Three Evils are a crossover between foreign and domestic security concerns, usually described as sources of domestic instability caused by the meddling of other countries or non-state groups.
According to Li Wei, Head of the Anti-Terrorism Research Center of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, the NSC is "geared toward handling the increasing number of major incidents and mishaps that will impinge upon our country's security and interests".
Li indicated that the NSC's concerns include non-traditional security issues including economic and financial security, environmental safety, terrorism and piracy. Given the CCP's long-standing belief that many of the country's destabilizing agents are abetted by hostile foreign countries - which seem bent on subverting the socialist system via mechanisms such as "color revolutions" or "peaceful evolution" - internal order can only be upheld through obtaining sound intelligence from units such as MOFA, ILD, MSS as well as military-intelligence units.
As the Global Times pointed out, "social transformation has resulted in the profusion of contradictions within China". "Foreign forces are increasingly keen to challenge China by exploiting our internal problems - and their levers for doing so have become more numerous," the party mouthpiece added.
The paper cited as example the growing number of accidents involving ethnic minorities, "which have turned ugly owing to China's radically changed external environment". Given the leadership's growing awareness of what the Global Times calls "the mega concept of security," the current top organ for maintaining security - the party's Central Political-Legal Commission, which is in charge of the police, the prosecutor's office and the courts - does not have enough resources to cover all aspects of national security.
Moreover, the reputation of the CPLC has been dealt a heavy blow as Zhou Yongkang, the former PBSC member who headed the commission from 2007 to 2012, is believed to have been under investigation for alleged corruption.
Chinese media, however, have yet to disclose details about the relationship of the NSC and the CPLC.
Quite a number of liberal intellectuals are alarmed by the NSC's apparent similarity to the all-powerful internal-security units in the former Soviet Union. According to economist Xia Yeliang, a former Peking University professor and noted public intellectual, "the authorities are very worried about stability despite the apparent achievements in economic development."