x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Chinese premier reasserts Communist Party control over armed forces

Wen Jiabao says the most important military task is to "win local wars under information-age conditions".

Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, right, and President Hu Jintao applaud at the opening session of the National Peoples Congress in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Mr Wen said the military's chief tasks include winning regional conflicts using the latest technology. Adrian Bradshaw / EPA
Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, right, and President Hu Jintao applaud at the opening session of the National Peoples Congress in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Mr Wen said the military's chief tasks include winning regional conflicts using the latest technology. Adrian Bradshaw / EPA

BEIJING // The Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, yesterday reaffirmed the Communist Party's ultimate control over the armed forces at a time of rising defence budgets and sharpening regional territorial disputes.

In a wide-ranging address at the opening of the legislature's annual 10-day session, Mr Jiabao reasserted the Communist Party's ultimate control over the armed forces at a time of rising defence budgets and sharpening regional territorial disputes.

He reiterated the military's chief tasks, including winning regional conflicts using the latest technology, fighting terrorism, maintaining stability, handling emergencies and providing disaster relief.

Mr Wen's emphasis on the Communist Party's control over the military remarks was aimed to quash scattered calls for the 2.3 million-member People's Liberation Army to be placed under government rather than party control.

The PLA's main duty is to safeguard party rule and strike back against opponents, as it did against unarmed pro-democracy student protesters in 1989.

While Mr Wen's remarks on the military were almost identical to those in last year's address, the reference to party control was new. That could be an indication of the urgency with which the leadership feels it needs to address calls from junior officers and academics for a nationalised military.

"We will strengthen ideological and political standards, and adhere to the fundamental principle of the party having absolute leadership over the armed forces, and we should maintain the Chinese armed forces' fundamental purpose of being an army of the people," Mr Wen said.

The most important military task is to "win local wars under information-age conditions", Mr Wen said.

China announced on Sunday that it would boost defence spending by 11.2 per cent in 2012, the latest in a nearly two-decade string of double-digit increases.

Although the planned figure is less than last year's 12.7 per cent increase, China's military leaders have said they are unhappy with recent moves by the Obama administration to increase the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Only twice since the early 1990s has the increase been less than double digits.

National People's Congress spokesman Li Zhaoxing said China's defence spending would increase by 11.2 per cent over actual spending last year to hit 670.2 billion yuan (Dh390.2 billion) in 2012.

China's official defence spending is the largest in the world after the United States, but actual spending, according to foreign defence experts, may be 50 per cent higher, as China excludes outlays for its nuclear missile force and other programmes.

China has territorial disputes in the South China Sea with countries including the Philippines and Vietnam. It has similar sea disputes with Japan and border disagreements with India.

The Philippine foreign secretary, Albert del Rosario, said China has a sovereign right to bolster its defence but he expects Beijing "to fully utilise [its] vast global influence in the most responsible way, especially in terms of promoting peace, prosperity and stability in our region".

Tokyo's top government spokesman urged China's leaders to greater transparency on military issues and pledged Japan would be closely watching what happened across the water.

"We are concerned about the double-digit increase in this year's Chinese defence budget and will pay attention to future developments," Osamu Fujimura, the chief cabinet secretary, said.