Jake's View

President Xi Jinping's overhaul of China's military all part of ruling party's divide-and-rule plan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 November, 2015, 1:07am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2016, 3:30pm

The overhaul is aimed at moving away from an army-centric system towards a Western-style joint command in which the army, navy and air force are equally represented.

The South China Morning Post reported in September that an overhaul of the PLA would phase out Soviet-style command structures in favour of a US-style model.

SCMP, November 27


The American statesman Benjamin Franklin once famously said that a standing army is an aid to domestic bliss, but a temptation to foreign ventures.

It is, of course, not exactly what he said. He actually compared a standing army to a male organ in having these effects. But we clean up these rather frank statements to which Franklin was prone and we similarly do not say all there is to be said of the military.

Why President Xi Jinping should want a divided military command when he presently has all the benefits of a unified one seems a puzzle at first. The experience of the United States military would certainly not suggest such an initiative.

Take the US Navy, which has long absorbed the largest share of US military spending. Its focus until well into the second world war was on battleships, big-gun vessels that did a good job of sinking during wartime, but sank little themselves and were mostly left to create sand showers on Pacific beaches.

The aircraft carriers that did the real work were in some measure an afterthought built because of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal employment programmes.

Aircraft carriers now dominate although, since the demise of the Soviet Union, there is nothing left for them to fight on their terms. Thus they prowl the shores of the Middle East, looking for opportunities in the war on terror to justify their enormous costs, ready at any time with US$50 billion worth of fancy weaponry to bend 50 cents worth of tent pegs.

Then there is the US Air Force, a post-second world war creation (it was the US Army Air Force in that war).

The idea was that creating a separate command offered a cheap option for the cold war. The Air Force could drop atom bombs on Russia. Who needed the army?

Except that the squadrons operating the first big nuclear bomber, the B-36, could not even find Europe when flying from the US.

Never mind. This was only more reason every few years to build newer models of very costly aircraft to fight Russia-style industrial state enemies who no longer exist.

The present record is held by the B-2 at US$2 billion a pop, and that was in the 1990s.

When it came to fighting an actual war in Vietnam, however, the US Air Force saw its role as dancing about high in the sky, dropping bombs on bridges it could not hit, or looking for rare Russian MiG jets in Vietnamese colours.

Meanwhile the US Army was told it could operate only helicopters because planes were the preserve of the US Air Force and the army had to say "pretty please" if it wanted any help from them.

Oh, what a fine idea a separate air force proved to be.

This is not to mention the fourth separate arm of the US military, the US Marine Corps, which prides itself in song on beating up Mexico and Algeria in the 19th century - and which gets around the official limit on maintaining no more than three divisions by ballooning each out to 20,000 men.

These are the famous soldiers who specialise in hitting the beaches, among them in 1943 the beaches of Kiribati, which we featured in last Sunday's Post Magazine as vanishing under rising ocean levels, won by the Marines and lost to global warming.

However, have no fear. The Marine Corps itself will not go the same way, anachronism although it undoubtedly is.

I simply do not see how Xi can believe that the American experience of divided command is one to emulate. If he does believe it then he needs to do some research very soon.

However, I think it a safe assumption that this is actually a divide-and-rule initiative to cement control of the military firmly inside the Zhongnanhai compound of the political leadership of China's Communist Party.