China's state security committee shows Xi's clout
BEIJING (AP) — China's plan to create a new security committee demonstrates President Xi Jinping's success in cementing his authority as Communist Party leader, analysts said Wednesday.
Chinese academics for decades have advocated a body to oversee coordination among police, intelligence, military and other security organs, which have sometimes appeared out of step with each other or with the party's civilian leadership despite their emphasis on discipline and unity.
The 2011 test flight of a Chinese fighter jet hours before the U.S. defense chief met with China's leader raised questions over whether security and civilian branches were in sync, as did the slow response to massive riots in the restive west in 2009.
Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin tried in the 1990s to establish such a coordinating agency, experts say, but his effort failed due to resistance from the military and factions within the leadership that did not want to cede power.
But Xi has succeeded where Jiang failed, said Liu Shanying, a political scientist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"The fact is that Jiang had not yet been able to establish his power and status to the extent that was needed to set up the committee at the time," Liu said. "One cannot set up the committee and coordinate the resources unless he has established and consolidated his power already."
The new National Security Committee was one of the few concrete measures announced by party leaders Tuesday after a four-day meeting that served as a platform for Xi to lay out his policy vision and for his team to unveil an economic blueprint, which leaders said would give market forces a bigger role in the economy while maintaining state industries at its core.
Few details of the panel were announced, including whether it would be a government body or an entity of the Communist Party.
Cheng Li, a China expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said he thinks the committee will be a government body and that it will make Xi's leadership somewhat "more like a presidency" than the party's current collective leadership style.
But he added, "I personally think it's not strong enough to change the nature of the collective leadership."
If the new committee were modeled on the U.S. National Security Council, it would serve as the main government forum for the president to take advice from intelligence, military, police and other advisers.
"Xi Jinping is now gathering even more reins of power in his hands," said Willy Lam, an expert on Communist Party politics at Chinese University in Hong Kong. "He has almost total control over the military, the police and other similar forces."
In the previous cohort of Chinese leaders, the domestic public security portfolio was held by Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of party power, and not directly controlled by then-President Hu Jintao. Zhou exerted his control over security agencies as head of the party's Central Political and Legal Commission, which amassed extensive powers under his leadership.
After Zhou retired during last year's leadership transition, the portfolio was taken over by Meng Jianzhu, China's top security official, who is a Politburo member but not in the standing committee.
The creation of the new panel helps Xi weaken the power of the party commission that Zhou used to dominate and "allows Xi to play a decisive role in national security with less interference from other leaders," said George Guo, author of the 2012 book "China's Security State."
Xi's influence with the military far exceeds that of predecessors Hu and Jiang, neither of whom had any personal or family background with the armed forces. Jiang enraged the generals with what they saw as a soft line on Taiwan's moves toward independence.
Xi's clout with the armed forces largely stems from the reputation of his father, Xi Zhongxun, a former general and vice premier, and a former confidant of Mao Zedong during the founding of the communist state. As party leader and Central Military Commission chairman, Xi has been highly solicitous of the armed forces, frequently inspecting naval bases, command centers and military technology institutes.
The leader has also preached a hard line against all perceived enemies of party rule, including advocates for greater rights for Tibetans and Turkic Muslim Uighurs in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. Such messages have special resonance with leaders of military, intelligence and security forces who are ever-fearful of creeping liberalism that might weaken single-party rule.
Chinese authorities have also been unsettled by the large environmental protests by city residents against proposed chemical plants and petroleum refineries, as well as sporadic acts of violence by disenfranchised individuals.
Just days before the party's key meeting, a man set off a series of explosions outside party offices in a northern city, killing one person. A week prior to that, three Uighurs drove a car through crowds to Beijing's iconic Tiananmen Gate before setting their vehicle on fire, killing themselves and two bystanders.
The party wants to look like it works in lockstep with the military it claims to control, but a few examples in recent years have raised doubts about that cooperation.
Security forces were slow to respond to stop the violence that erupted in Lhasa and Urumqi in 2008 and 2009, when the capital cities in Tibet and Xinjiang saw massive riots. Observers speculated at the time that in both cases, the responses were delayed by poor coordination between police, the military and the civilian leadership.
Then in 2011, China conducted the first test flight of a radar-evading fighter jet just hours before then-U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with Hu, which prompted questions about the extent to which the civilian leadership was in control of the military.
Some American media reports cited U.S. defense officials as saying that Hu seemed not to know about the flight test when Gates asked him about it.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report.