Party-Army Relations Since the 16th Party Congress

The Battle of the "Two Centers"?

Published in: Civil-Military Change in China: Elites, Institutes, and Ideas After the 16th Party Congress / edited by Andrew Scobell, Larry Wortzel (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, Army War College, 2004), Chapter 2, p. 11-48

Posted on RAND.org on June 28, 2016

by James C. Mulvenon

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The 12 months between the 16th Party Congress in October 2002 and the party plenum in November 2003 provide a fascinating snapshot of party-army relations in China. Jiang Zemin's retention of the Central Military Commission in China (CMC) chairmanship at the 16th Party Congress, which most observers expect him to retain for 2–3 years, has set off a classic successor struggle with Hu Jintao, who is seeking to consolidate his own position with the military. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) finds itself in the middle of this muddle, looking for support for military modernization and concerned about clarity in the chain of command, especially during crisis. This chapter charts some of the most important episodes of this fluid party-army dynamic since October 2002, including the 16th Party Congress itself and the 2003 National People's Congress (NPC), as well as the party-army implications of the recent severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic and the Ming #361 submarine accident in late spring 2003. The current evidence suggests that Hu is consolidating his power more quickly than expected, though Jiang did not step down at the plenum in November 2003. As a result, the civil side of the civil-military arrangement is still frustratingly opaque, foreshadowing possible problems in both domestic and international realms, particularly an external crisis like a dispute in the Taiwan Strait.

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