The Military and Political Succession in China

Leadership, Institutions, Beliefs

by Michael D. Swaine


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The highly unstable and unprecedented conditions confronting China today are marked by widespread social discontent and extremely low party prestige, a weak, divided, and unpopular leadership, and the imminent passing of the original revolutionary generation of elder Chinese powerholders. These factors, combined with the historical centrality of Chinese military power and the legacy of communist rule by a fused party-army political structure, suggest that it is virtually impossible to assess the dynamics of China's coming succession struggle and China's future political evolution without fully analyzing the role of the People's Liberation Army in elite politics. This report examines three components of China's politico-military system: party- military leadership, military organizations, and military beliefs and attitudes toward political involvement. Based on these analyses, Swaine evaluates possible scenarios for succession following the death of Deng Xiaoping, concluding that younger military officers could serve as guarantors of long-term stability for a nondemocratic Chinese regime marked by expanding economic regionalism and overall growth or could serve as the facilitators of radical social and economic change and political liberalization.

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