Machinations on Army Day

The first day of August occupies a premier slot in the Chinese lexicon of state sanctioned holidays. Observed annually, Army Day, popularly known as bayi or August 1, commemorates the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1927 and its progressive maturing over the last eight decades. Besides cheerful festivities across the country, August 1 also provides a convenient opportunity for Chinese politicians to pay homage to the mighty PLA.

This year’s August 1 is especially worth noting given the ongoing housecleaning within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). With all eyes on the chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), it is widely expected that Xi Jinping’s gestures towards the armed forces would closely coordinate with the intense round of political weiqi (encircling chess) taking place among the ruling elite. Though not a native of Fujian, Xi earned his spurs in the southeastern canton after seventeen years of administrative service, including a seven years stint as first commissar of the Fujian provincial anti-aircraft artillery reserve division. In a sense, Fujian is Xi’s second home away from Beijing. On the afternoon of July 30, Xi, the now supreme commander of the PLA returned to the military barracks of Fujian where he cut his teeth as a soldier.[1]

Xi, the young commissar. Copyright: China.org.cn

Xi, the young commissar.
Copyright: China.org.cn

Xi’s decision to travel thousands of miles away from the Chinese capital encourage deeper analysis of the situation given the evolving machinations at the imperial court. Considering the facts available, it is clear that the rough-riding Chinese honcho made careful calculations before embarking upon his Fujian tour, all with clear political goals in mind.

A lively welcome for Fujian’s favorite adopted son. Copyright: Xinhua

A lively welcome for Fujian’s favorite adopted son.
Copyright: Xinhua

First and foremost, Fujian’s location as a frontier province created a geographical distance separating the Chinese supremo from the purge in Beijing. With the anti-corruption campaign reaching an apex in the party’s business and security apparatus, Xi’s decision to quietly remove his presence from the scene of the dogfight is a deliberate move to protect and cultivate his public image as a righteous ruler with excellent qualities, who is well above the shady skullduggery typical of Chinese power politics.

Moreover, bear in mind the weight of regionalism as a decisive factor in Chinese politics. Xi’s visit placed the armed forces of Fujian under the national spotlight on a holiday of substantial political significance. The commander-in-chief’s formal salute to the Fujian servicemen, in particular members of the resident 31st Army Group bestowed the provincials with vocal support from the center, hence smoothing the path for loyalist Fujian officers as they move up the ranks.

Last but not least, the tour of the Fujian garrison is a neatly orchestrated maneuver corresponding to the unfolding plot in Beijing. After unveiling the sturdy gibbet prepared for former security and petroleum czar Zhou Yongkang on July 29,[2] Xi needs a show of force via military means to counter the undercurrent moving against his political desires. Borrowing the strength of outlying forces to achieve political ends at the center is a long-held custom of Chinese imperial intrigue. Widely recognized as a man who hoists high the banner of classical knowledge, Xi is definitely not a stranger to such fundamental praxis of quanshu (Chinese-style Machiavellian stratagems). In fact, he has demonstrated impressive knacks when it comes to the artful application of rewards and punishments.

Zhou Yongkang in his days of glory. Known as an unscrupulous man with traits of a desperado, Zhou once presided over the powerful Central Politics and Law Commission (CPLC) and rode roughshod over his opponents. Note his badge number. Copyright: South China Morning Post

Zhou Yongkang in his days of glory. Known as an unscrupulous man with traits of a desperado, Zhou once presided over the powerful Central Politics and Law Commission (CPLC) and rode roughshod over his opponents. Note his badge number.
Copyright: South China Morning Post

 

(Copyright 2014 Zi Yang)

 

[1] 王士彬, 代烽, and 欧阳浩, “习近平八一前夕看望慰问驻福建部队官兵,” 中国军网, accessed August 3, 2014, http://www.81.cn/jmywyl/2014-07/31/content_6074813.htm.

[2] “中共中央决定对周永康严重违纪问题立案审查,” 人民网, accessed August 3, 2014, http://politics.people.com.cn/n/2014/0729/c1001-25365212.html#.