The Meaning of Xi Jinping’s “New Era” from the Standpoint of Security
Bonji Ohara (Senior Fellow, The Sasakawa Peace Foundation)
China held its National People’s Congress (NPC) from March 5-20, 2018. According to the budget report announced in conjunction with the opening of the NPC on March 5th, defense expenditures for 2018 were 1.11 trillion yuan (about $175 billion US), an 8.1% increase from the previous year.  There is some debate over whether this number is high or low.
Since Premier Li Keqiang set the target GDP growth rate for 2018 at around 6.5%, the same as last year, as published in the Government Work Report, defense spending is expected to put pressure on the economy because its growth rate is higher than that of the economy. However, growth in defense spending will fall short of more than 10 percent growth, which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) claims it needs to attain military power on par with the United States by 2050.
The current state of China’s military buildup and the background behind it cannot be understood by simply looking at the published increases in China’s defense budget, which is said not to include all budget items. The announced increase at the NPC was likely to simply send a political message that the Chinese government and the Communist Party controlling the government are striking the proper balance between economic growth and the military buildup.
There is no doubt that China is trying to modernize the PLA and strengthen its military power. As to the questions of why China requires such military might in the “new era” and the meaning of the “new era” heralded by the Xi Jinping administration, the data released by China does not provide a complete answer.
In order to understand these issues, it is necessary to analyze not only the published data but also what happens in reality. This report aims to understand the “new era” heralded by the Xi Jinping administration through examining the content of the security-related policies determined by the state and the Communist Party and how those decisions affect the procurement of weapons and equipment and the missions of military units.
１．The National People’s Congress
The 2018 NPC was remarkable for Premier Li Keqiang and the leaders of state organs and cabinet ministers to proclaim the “Xi Jinping ‘new era.’” In his closing ceremony speech, (Party General Secretary) President Xi Jinping stated, “Chinese socialism has entered a new era,” and reaffirmed the goal of building a “great modern socialist country” that can be comparable to the United States by the middle of the century.
It was clear to everyone that Xi Jinping had managed to further consolidate power. During the NPC, the Constitution was amended to abolish the fixed-term system of two terms and 10 years along with the unprecedented appointment of Xi Jinping as president, the reappointment of Li Keqiang as premier, and the appointment of Wang Qishan as Vice President of the People’s Republic of China.
In addition, the NPC passed laws, such as the Supervision Law, that provide the legal basis for the National Supervisory Commission, a new agency to enforce President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption efforts. While the NPC, derided as “the rubber stamp of the Party,” increased its function as a legislative body, it created a state system that concentrated power with Xi Jinping by enacting the new laws.
For General Secretary Xi Jinping, to lead China’s new era, it was necessary to institutionalize his personal authority. At the same time, however, he showed that he is not equal to Deng Xiaoping, who was neither Party general secretary nor president, but recognized by all as a leader.
Moreover, the institutionalization advanced by Deng Xiaoping was the exact opposite of consolidating the power of an individual and was geared toward building a bottom-up policy-making process for the long-term stable governance of the Communist Party no matter who becomes the leader. To understand Xi Jinping’s intent to consolidate power, it is necessary to study it in retrospect.
２．The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (19th Congress)
Although the NPC has increased its function as a legislative body, it is still a forum for converting party lines into policy measures. The matters decided at the 2018 NPC were based on the Party and state organ reform policies deliberated and decided at the 19th Congress and the first, the second, and the third plenary session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
General Secretary Xi Jinping’s opening report at the 19th Congress on October 18, 2017 was reflected in the concerns and intentions of the current Central Committee. The report was titled “Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” and consists of the following 13 topics.
1.The past five years: Our work and historic change
2.The new era: The historic mission of the Communist Party of China
3.The thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era and the basic policy
4.Securing a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and embarking on a journey to fully build a modern socialist China
5.Applying a new vision of development and developing a modernized economy
6.Improving the system of institutions through which the people run the country and developing socialist democracy
7.Building stronger cultural confidence and helping socialist culture to flourish
8.Growing better at ensuring and improving people’s wellbeing and strengthening and developing new approaches to social governance
9.Speeding up reform of the system for developing an ecological civilization, and building a beautiful China
10.Staying committed to the Chinese path of building strong armed forces and fully advancing the modernization of national defense and the military
11.Upholding “one country, two systems” and moving toward national reunification
12.Following a path of peaceful development and working to build a community with a shared future for mankind
13.Exercising strict governance over the Party and improving the Party’s ability to govern and lead
Through the Chinese media, the Communist Party of China propagated that the keyword of the 19th Congress was “new era.” Over the course of the roughly three and a half hour speech, “new era” was uttered 36 times.
Xi Jinping started his report by recognizing that China has entered a new era by explaining, “The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is a meeting of great importance taking place during the decisive stage in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and at a critical moment as socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era.”
This “new era” is related to China’s Two Centenaries. The Two Centenaries are the 100th anniversary of the founding the Communist Party of China in 2021 and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2049. Thus, China will mark the first centenary by the time of the 20th Congress.
Deng Xiaoping called for the “completion of a moderately prosperous society,” but the current Communist Party of China is calling for the “completion of a ‘moderately prosperous society in all respects’ by 2020.” Instructions from the Great Leader Deng Xiaoping were absolute, so surely a “moderately prosperous society in all respects” would have been achieved. After achieving Deng Xiaoping’s instructions in 2020, a new authoritative goal will be needed.
And in order to set a goal for the “new era,” authority in line with Deng Xiaoping’s is necessary in the current Central Committee because economic development will not continue unless there are painful reforms, such as reform of the economic structure. Thus, it will be necessary to raise the authority of the Central Committee by centralizing the power of Xi Jinping.
To concentrate the power of Xi Jinping, it is believed that a certain consensus exists in the Central Committee. This is because there are shared concerns over the decline of the authority of the Central Committee. The market economy introduced by Deng Xiaoping was not compatible with the planned economy of the Communist Party, which inevitably resulted in a decline in the authority of the Communist Party. The Communist Party of China has justified its existence through economic development. However, the decline of the Communist Party’s authority, whose raison d’être is to plan and manage, was inevitable.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China believes that it is necessary to centralize the power of Xi Jinping in order to enhance the authority of the Communist Party. However, even if the direction is the same, there are also differences in thinking as to the extent to which power should be centralized. The difference in this thinking emerges from time to time in the staffing of the Politburo Standing Committee and the Central Military Commission, which is said to indicate a power struggle.
Incorporating “Xi Jinping thought” into the Party conventions is intended to show that he has authority on par with that of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping by specifying core principles that bear the name of the leader himself. Restoring the authority of the Party by improving the Party’s execution capabilities and leadership will regain the public’s trust, and it will then be possible to lead China to a new goal.
３．The purpose of raising the Party’s authority as seen in the Central Military Commission staff
In spite of this, there are signs that Xi Jinping’s grasp for power is not complete. While trying to accentuate the power of General Secretary Xi Jinping, there are examples illustrating that strong-arm personnel shuffles were carried out to consolidate his power.
A typical example is the major reshuffle and restructuring of the Central Military Commission. Considering this, along with the military review held on July 30, 2017 at the Inner Mongolia training base to celebrate Army Day (in commemoration of the founding of the PLA), it can be understood that Xi Jinping’s power grab was incomplete even in the second half of 2017.
Personnel shuffles in the Central Military Commission have a direct impact on the control of the PLA. Although the Central Military Commission personnel shuffle in October 2017 has been considered to have been used to consolidate the power of Xi Jinping by the heavy use of Fujian and other factions, it had a larger structural purpose.
Before the 19th Congress, it was reported that former Commander of the PLA Navy, Admiral Wu Shengli (72); former Chief of the General Staff Department, General Fang Fenghui (66); and Director of the Political Work Department, General Zhang Yang (66) were detained, while Air Force General Ma Xiaotian (68) was replaced.  The detention and replacement of the Central Military Commission staff just before the National Congress was extraordinary. While it was not clear that General Wu Shengli had been detained since he appeared in the media and attended the 19th Congress, former Chief of the General Staff Department General, Fang Fenghui and Director of the Political Work Department, General Zhang Yang, were virtually taken into custody after given notice of Shuanggui.
The three detained and replaced generals were quickly removed from the Commission, leaving (former Air Force General) Xu Qiliang, the current vice chairman of the Central Military Commission; (former head of the Equipment Development Department) Zhang Youxia, and (former Commander of the Rocket Force) Wei Fenghe in place, while (Commander of the PLA Ground Force) General Han Weiguo, (Director of the Political Work Department) General Miao Hua, (Director of the Logistic Support Department) General Song Puxuan, (Commander of the PLA Air Force) Lieutenant General Ding Laihang, and (Commander of the PLA Navy) Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong are thought to have been added. In reality, however, the Army, Navy, and Air Force commanders did not join the Central Military Commission.
The Central Military Commission consists of President Xi Jinping, (Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission) Xu Qiliang, (former head of the Equipment Development Department) Zhang Youxia, (former commander of the Rocket Force) Wei Fenghe, (chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission) Li Zuocheng, (Director of the Political Work Department) Miao Hua, and (Deputy Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and Secretary of the CMC Commission for Discipline Inspection) Zhang Shengmin. The number of members in the Commission shrank from 11 to seven.  It is believed that removing the Army, Navy, and Air Force commanders from the Central Military Commission also relatively lowered the authority of the PLA and increased the authority of the Central Committee.
Suppressing the authority of the military and relatively raising that of the Party is not only because it fears the Army’s opposition to command by the Central Committee, but because there are concerns that the military cannot protect the foreign economic activities supporting China’s development by military power unless it obeys the Party’s orders.
４．The People’s Liberation Army seen in General Secretary Xi Jinping’s report
What the Central Committee demands of the military can be seen in General Secretary Xi Jinping’s report at the 19th Congress. The military is mentioned 10th among 13 topics and accounts for only 3% of the text in the report. The PLA can be used as a tool in a power struggle but the priority of the military in Party politics is never high. However, it is possible to extract the focal point of the Party and military operations around General Secretary Xi Jinping.
Although there is barely any mention of military operations, the report includes the direction of the military modernization. Phrases such as “application of artificial intelligence for military affairs ” and “combat capabilities for joint operations based on the network information system (conscious of US military’s network-centric operations)” are abstract and lack concreteness, but are reflected in the armaments and strategy of the PLA.
Also, General Secretary Xi Jinping lists as areas of concern “management and protection of veterans,” “protecting the legitimate rights and interests of military personnel and their families,” “military service as an occupation that enjoys public respect,” and “reforms to build a modernized armed police force,” which suggest an awareness of the risk of discontent stemming from veterans frequently protesting their poor treatment (the future for active serviceman) and the loss of income by active servicemen due to “anti-corruption” efforts. On the contrary, recognizing that the PLA is losing the trust of the people and thereby ordering improvements indicates the severity of the decay in the PLA.
n addition, it also suggests that General Secretary Xi Jinping is aware that there is a problem with the People’s Armed Police at this time. Although the People’s Armed Police was under the command of the Ministry of Public Security organizationally, it was directly commanded by the Central Military Commission. Its importance was recognized following the Tiananmen Square protests on June 4, 1989, and the organization of the People’s Armed Police was expanded.
As the People’s Armed Police is organizationally part of the Ministry of Public Security, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission holds powerful sway over it, even within the Communist Party, meaning that it is ruled and dominated by Zhou Yongkang, who is a disciple of Jiang Zemin. The reform of the People’s Armed Police began with a restructuring of the organization. From January 1, 2018, it was decided that the People’s Armed Police would come under the command of the Central Military Commission, and with the removal of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the chain of command became a single line from the Central Committee to the People’s Armed Police via the Central Military Commission.
５．Declaration of a “strong maritime country”
For a China that is increasingly wary of American interference as it pursues its economic development, becoming a “strong maritime country” is a necessary condition for its economic development to continue in the future. China needs to protect its maritime transportation routes, which are the “one road” of the One Belt One Road Initiative. Furthermore, it must also show a military presence in areas such as the Middle East.
However, Xi Jinping only used “strong maritime country” once in his report. It appears in the fifth of the 13 topics, “Applying a new vision of development and developing a modernized economy.” The South China Sea, often discussed by Japan and the United States as one of China’s initiatives to become a strong maritime country, was only touched upon in the speech’s first topic, “The past five years: Our work and historic change.”
China sees the ocean as a “road” that transports resources, goods, and military power to support the development of China. The ocean is important as a place to acquire resources and is recognized as a frontier similar to the interior of China. In this regard, controlling the frontier includes securing the safety of activities, including traffic, and preventing independence.
But Xi Jinping’s report does not name the Navy as having the leading role in constructing a “strong maritime country.” On the contrary, the Navy was referred to only once in the “report” where it was used in the tenth topic of “Staying committed to the Chinese path of building strong armed forces and fully advancing the modernization of national defense and the military.”
Nevertheless, the main actor protecting China’s external economic activities is the Navy. From 1983, Liu Huaqing, who was appointed Commander of the PLA Navy by Deng Xiaoping, ordered a three-phase development of the Navy.
n the first phase to be achieved by 2000, he instructed that “for the critical 15-year period from now (the mid-1980s) until 2000, the PLA Navy must be able to exert control over the maritime territory within and beyond the First Island Chain.” The target of this first phase has been achieved almost 10 years behind schedule, as seen from the fact that the Chinese Navy has been promoting the “normalization of expeditionary ocean navigation training” since around 2009.
By the mid-1980s, there were no specific targets for the second and third phases, but if one looks at things such as the state of armaments on the PLA Navy’s ships, the aim in the second stage by 2020 is believed to be the dispatch of an aircraft carrier strike group to regions around the world to demonstrate a military presence. In the third phase by 2050, the aim is to become a Navy that surpasses the US Navy as shown in the “report” at the 19th Congress and elsewhere.
It is said that the naval development strategy is linked to the timing of the “Two Centenaries” and is tied to the “century of humiliation” and the “great revival of the Chinese nation.” It is about matching the speed of modernizing the Navy to political goals.。
６．The significance of building aircraft carriers
For China, the modernization of the Navy is crucial for it to be a “strong maritime power.” One of the symbolic pieces of the Chinese Navy’s equipment is the aircraft carrier. Although China has the Liaoning training aircraft carrier, it was rebuilt without design drawings and cannot be used for actual combat. The Liaoning has poor operational availability due to problems with its propulsion system, which deprived Chinese Navy from obtaining sufficient know-how on operating an aircraft carrier. It is thought that training a naval aviation force remains a challenge.
Despite the lack of know-how regarding the operational deployment of aircraft carriers and carrier-based fighters, the purpose of China designing and building aircraft carriers is not to fight the US Navy, but to signal a Chinese military presence around the world. By signaling a military presence, it is thought that China can finally have regional influence.。
An aircraft carrier is a prime example of a power projection capability that China thinks it lacks. It is a vehicle that deploys China’s air strike capabilities around the world. For China, an aircraft carrier strike group is considered to be crucial for the country’s economic development.
However, China’s shipbuilding technology does not seem to have the capability to construct a satisfactory aircraft carrier yet. The Chinese Ministry of National Defense explained in a press conference that its “first domestic aircraft carrier would be an improvement of the Liaoning to some extent.” Furthermore, the first domestic aircraft carrier built by Dalian Shipbuilding and that being built by Jiangnan Shipyard of Shanghai appear to be different types.
Dalian Shipbuilding has relied on technology from the Soviet Union while Jiangnan Shipyard had tended to use more Western technology. In fact, the Chinese Navy built different destroyers at Dalian Shipbuilding and Jiangnan Shipyard in the early 2000s. Those ships are the Type 051C Luzhou-class destroyer and the Type 052C Lanzhou-class destroyer. After building these two types of destroyers, China did not build another destroyer for eight years.
China has been comparing the performance of the destroyers while operating them, and finally settled on the Type 052C Lanzhou-class. It then developed the Type 052D Luyang II class, which is now in full scale production. It is possible that this type of development may show up in the construction of its aircraft carriers. In other words, this means that China’s aircraft carrier class has still not been determined.
China is building large destroyers that form part of an aircraft carrier strike group to protect an aircraft carrier. In December 2014, China began building the Type 055 destroyer. The Type 055 destroyer was launched at the Jiangnan Shipyard on June 28, 2017. 
It has an overall length of 180 meters, a displacement of over 12,000 tons, and is equipped with a 130 mm main gun and a multi-purpose vertical launch system, but it does not appear to have made any dramatic technological advances. It pursued an integrated power control similar to that of the US Navy’s USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), but while the mounting of a rail gun and laser was considered, it is likely that it was not teHowever, the Type 055 destroyer is significant not only for the technology it uses but also for its mission. At the beginning of its construction in 2014, the Chinese Navy claimed that, “the Type 055 destroyer is different from ships for homeland defense in that it is a destroyer that carries out its strategic mission globally.” This means that it is a warship to be deployed around the world with an aircraft carrier strike group.
In March 2018, it was confirmed that a Type 055 destroyer was built at Dalian Shipbuilding. In light of the pace of construction, China seems intent on deploying an aircraft carrier strike group operating from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea by 2020.
Since Xi Jinping assumed the position of Party General Secretary, China has grounded its foreign diplomacy in “major power diplomacy.” Even in 2018, the most important issue in Chinese diplomacy is to avoid an armed conflict with the United States. Since the birth of the Trump administration, the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program has been taking on aspects of a game between the two major powers of the United States and China.
Even though China acted as the standard bearer of free trade at the May 2017 Belt and Road Summit and began to engage in international rules as an economically powerful actor, its military might is still far from being equivalent with the United States. China is seeking to change the international order from a position of military weakness and will continue to build its military power while avoiding conflict with the United States.
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