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Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

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Xi Jinping purges Chinese military

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Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

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In the past few years, there has been a rise in the number of high-level Chinese political and military leaders suddenly disappearing, as Chinese President Xi Jinping escalates his purges against any perceived disloyalty. The wide range of these disappearances throughout military, government and diplomatic offices has sparked some questions about the overall integrity of the Chinese military and the Chinese state.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan analyzes what these disappearances signal for Xi Jinping personally and what they mean for Chinese military preparedness. Zeihan contrasts this current era of dysfunction with a previous Chinese era to understand why Xi is moving in this direction, and what it might mean for China as a whole.

The following is excerpted from Peter’s Jan. 11 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

Xi Jinping is doing his best Darth Vader impression and has the Chinese military in a force choke. After purging the system of anyone who can think, all that remains is the shell of a defense minister (now a press secretary for military diplomacy) and the “real” decision makers — the Central Military Commission — chaired by none other than Xi himself.

The Chinese military has remained largely untouched by Xi’s purges over the years, but this last round sought out any political players and corrupt personnel within the military. So, anyone with two brain cells, overly ambitious or competent, has been “relieved of duty.”

The Central Military Commission, which is now comprised of yes-men and sit-there-and-smile-men, will likely lose any semblance of military preparedness to prioritize ideological adherence. I’ll let you judge what that means for the future of the Chinese military…

Everybody Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Colorado, we’re going to talk about some things that have gone down in China’s regards to the military. Now, there are a lot of folks who like to stress about the Chinese military, and who are convinced that if we ever do get into a real fight with the Chinese, that we’re gonna have our asses handed to them. I’ve never been part of that crowd, mostly for an equipment point of view. They’ve got two carriers that have ever seen conflict, we’ve got 20, which have seen lots of fights over the last several decades. Most of their ships can’t sail more than 1,000 miles from shore. And that assumes they’re going in a straight line and no one’s shooting at them, or they’re going slow to save fuel, whereas our fleet is fully bluewater capable. But I’m not going to talk about the technical aspects of the military today, but instead the leadership aspects, the functional, the structural stuff. Now in the United States, we have a defense secretary who’s in formal command of the forces, and who reports directly to the President as a member of a cabinet. So orders go from the President, to the Secretary of Defense, to the troops. That’s not how it works in China. In China, the defense minister does not have operational control over the military or over policy, they’re more of a glorified press secretary that deals with military diplomacy. And they are, as a result, the interface with our folks. But those aren’t the decision makers. The decision makers sit on the Central Military Commission, which is chaired by Xi. Now if you go back a few months, the Chinese government has been seeing a series of purges for, not just a few months but for 14 years now, and it claimed the Defense Secretary over this past summer, it took a while to happen, the guy basically vanished, didn’t show up at the office and wasn’t in the press at all for two months before he was formally disposed.

 

And it’s only in the last couple of weeks that we finally have a new defense minister, a guy by the name of Dong Jun, he’s an admiral. But again, the defense minister position in China is not all of that, the real decision-making power lies elsewhere. Now, the issue that we’ve been seeing in China, as regards to these purges, has been robust. It’s about Xi trying to tighten his grip on everything. And over the course of the last few months, he’s fired 20 top-level people, 12 in just the last two weeks, in order to put his stamp on the military. You have to look at this from Xi’s point of view, when he came in China was one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And also, it was one of the more centrally disassociated. The Chinese Communist Party under Xi has tried to be very centralized and wants all decision making to flow through Beijing into Xi personally, and China’s a country of 1.3 billion people. And that requires a lot of hands-on government at the regional and the local level. And when you’ve got decision making at the regional and local level, people make decisions at the regional and the local level. And that means that Xi would rather have them singing his praises, rather than doing the dirty work of day to day governance.

 

So he established a series of purchase both to go after the corruption and against his political competition, perceived or otherwise. And over the next 12 years, basically gutted the system of anyone who might stand against him by going against anyone who might stand. And so whether it’s in local government, or state government, or in academia, or business or in the federal bureaucracy, it has been purged of anyone with any ambition and any competence. The reason that the military was left out of those first several purges is because it was strong, and because these people had guns, and you deal with that last, and now he’s starting to deal with that as well. And so a lot of the purges we have seen are going after either political players, or folks that are actually guilty of corruption. And so you know, about 20, so far, including a recently appointed defense minister ticked by none other than Xi himself. Now remember that central committee that does the military planning that is now stacked just like the Chinese Politburo with incompetent yes-men. Well, not even people who will say yes, people who won’t say anything, because Xi doesn’t want to be bothered. So what we see now is Xi starting to impose upon the military, the same structural gutting that we’ve seen for everything else. China has already gone through having a bureaucracy to one that doesn’t function at all, because nobody wants to transmit information because they don’t know how Xi’s going to respond. And now we’re seeing that in military activities as well. So is this good or bad? Well, it really depends on who you are and where you care about and where you live. But think of it this way. In the old system, China’s military preparedness and capability was probably sharply limited by lack of expertise, and by massive corruption, think like Russian style, stealing of the funds. Now, if Xi has his way, a third of the waking hours of all the military will be spent reading texts written by Xi Jinping, about Xi Jinping, about how wonderful Xi Jinping is. Which one of those makes a better military? Not quite sure it matters.

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