PLA generals more active in civilian affairs
By WILLY WO-LAP LAM
THE Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) has become increasingly immersed in the civilian sector as army personnel take on a more active role in everyday life.
Since the spring, members of the policy-setting Central Military Commission (CMC), of which President Jiang Zemin is Chairman, have assumed a high profile in matters including the economy, disaster relief, social welfare and diplomacy.
Xinhua (the New China News Agency), yesterday carried a short essay by Defence Minister Chi Haotian on a series of lectures and performances by handicapped athletes.
General Chi, who is tipped to be promoted to CMC Vice-Chairman later this year, heaped praise on the disabled performers.
''As an old soldier I sustained injuries during warfare and my body bears the marks,'' he wrote.
''Yet after hearing the lectures and seeing the performances, I cannot suppress the emotions in my heart.'' Analysts pointed out it was significant that the athletes and performers were related to the China Welfare Fund for the Handicapped, which was headed by the son of patriarch Deng Xiaoping, Deng Pufang.
The mutual support of the army and civilian sectors was celebrated at a function last weekend to honour model cities ''where the people support the army and their relatives and soldiers support the Government and love the people''.
To underscore the close relations between the PLA, the party and Government, seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, including CMC Vice-Chairman General Liu Huaqing, took part in the gala.
President Jiang pointed out that the ''mutual support of the army and the people'' was a great tradition of the new China.
''Particularly at critical junctures, the broad masses of PLA officers and soldiers rush to the frontline and make brave sacrifices for the sake of the people,''Mr Jiang said.
In the past week, the official media has run several articles on the vital role played by the PLA in economic construction.
Xinhua yesterday quoted the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Wu Jichuan as saying that ''from beginning to end, the PLA has provided massive support and help in developing telecommunications''.
The People's Daily recently stated that in areas struck by natural disasters, the people often repeated the refrain: ''Wherever there is calamity, go find the big army.'' Western diplomats said leaders such as Mr Jiang were giving the PLA generals a big say in civilian affairs in return for the army's support in the post-Deng power struggle.
The diplomats said generals Liu and Chi had made major contributions to Beijing's policy towards Taiwan and the Spratly Islands.
Like General Liu and Mr Jiang, General Chi is considered close to the household of Mr Deng, a former CMC chairman.
General Chi hails from the same village in Shandong as General Wang Ruilin, the Deng aide-de-camp who is the front-runner for the position of CMC secretary-general.