Wednesday, August 01, 2007

China’s People’s Liberation Army at 80: Projecting Power and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

This year the People’s Republic of china celebrates the 80th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army. “On August 1, 1927, CPC-led armed forces held an uprising in Nanchang, capital of east China's Jiangxi Province, which is regarded as the founding day for the PLA. This year, a series of official programs are to be held nationwide to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the army's Day.” Hu Jinatao Hails Army’s Role, Contribution to Nation, People’s Daily Online, July 27, 2007. Indeed, the Chinese State has taken great pains to use the celebrations to remind the world of its new willingness to project power—and its ability to do it through the PLA. See, e.g., PLA Budget to Rise With the Economy: President Ho, People’s Daly Online, Aug. 2, 2007; Beijing military exhibition draws 1 million visitors in 15 days, People’s Daily Online, Aug. 1, 2007 (“The exhibition showcases the development of the PLA, by displaying a total of 20 pieces of advanced military weaponry and logistic outfits of the army, navy and air force, 970 pictures and 1,750 other military exhibits in a total area of 6,540 square meters. Advanced military weaponry, including new types of ground-to-ground missiles, medium-range surface-to-air missiles, fighter aircraft and new logistic outfits are on display.”). As Ho Jintao was quoted as saying in a widely circulated address: “The PLA is "no longer a small, single-service force, but a strong and multiple-service force," which has made progress in modernization and is stepping toward an information technology-based army, Hu said.” China's armed forces more modernized, professional: President Hu, People’s Daily Online, Aug. 1, 2007. And critical to any improvement in the power of the PLA is its unquestioned loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. The union of CCP and PLA has been the basis of stability in China for a long time; and it is a connection that Chinese leaders are always cultivating. See, e.g., Chinese president stresses PLA's loyalty to CPC, People’s Daily Online, Aug. 1, 2007 (quoting Hu Jintao as saying: “"In these 80 years, the PLA has fostered its fine revolutionary traditions," he said, stressing "the traditions, in essence, mean that the PLA is forever at the CPC's command and the service of the people and should be courageous and skillful at war fighting." "The noble spirit that the PLA has nurtured over the years is to adhere to the absolute leadership of the Party," he said.”).

Among the many activities to which the People’s Liberation Army has begun to devote itself, one in particular may deserve a bit of sustained attention, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). According to the official website history, “The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is an international organisation composed of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People of Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan.” History of Development of Shanghai Cooperation Organization. India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia have been granted observer status within SCO. Id. Formed in 2001, its primary mission was “combating terrorism, separatism and extremism.” Id. An Organizational Charter was adopted in July 2002. The Charter broadened the scope of the SCO’s mission to include: “strengthening mutual trust, friendship and good-neighbourly relations among the member countries; promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade and economy, science and technology, culture, education, energy, transportation, ecology and other fields; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region, to establish a new, democratic, just and rational political and economic international order” Id. The SCO Charter elaborates an institutional structure that is essentially intergovernmental in character, though it has developed a limited institutional structure.

Article 10 of the SCO Charter (entitled Regional Antiterrorist Structure) provides:
The Regional Antiterrorist Structure established by the member States of the Shanghai Convention to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism of 15 June, 2001, located in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz Republic, shall be a standing SCO body. Its main objectives and functions, principles of its constitution and financing, as well as its rules of procedure shall be governed by a separate international treaty concluded by the member States, and other necessary instruments adopted by them.
SCO Charter, art. 10. Pursuant to this provision, the PLA has slowly been gaining substantial experience in multilateral military cooperation, especially the sort of cooperation in which the PLA takes the lead. The focus since 2002 has been on trouble in China’s troubled Western autonomous regions. Thus, it was no surprise to learn that a “joint anti-terrorism drill held by China and Kyrgyzstan from Oct 10 to 11, 2002 in the border region of the two countries. This is the Chinese army's first real ammunition military drill with foreign army, and is also the first bilateral joint military drill within the framework of the SCO.” China & Kyrgyzstan joint anti-terrorism drill in 2002, People’s Daily Online, July 27, 2007.

This year, the SCO again expands Chinese military capabilities. Currently, SCO states are engaged in an exercise
“operation, codenamed "Peace Mission 2007", involves 1,600 members of the PLA traveling by train and various military vehicles from Xinjiang in Northwest China to Chelyabinsk in the mountainous Ural region of Russia. The distance by train is 10,300 km, while aircraft will cover just 2,700 km, Xinhua quoted Senior Colonel Lu Chuangang as saying yesterday. This is the first time such a large military force has crossed a national border and traveled so far, Lu, who is the officer in charge of the drill, said.”
PLA ready for Peace Mission challenge, People’s Daily Online, July 31, 2007. The operation is more than a simple military drill. It suggests the sort of training one can expect of a state ready to project power where it will:
“‘It's not that simple for us to carry out exercise in a foreign country," said, Yin Xunbo, a 26-year-old soldier, "We have to learn other things besides military skills.’ For 1,600 members of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), to be in Russia next month, some understanding about relevant laws and Russian culture is as much important as their military skills. In this case, all of them had attended classes on these matters.”
Chinese soldiers study law before going to Russia for joint exercise, People's Daily Online, July 28, 2007. And the “exercise will involve practically all SCO members for the first time in its history.” Peace Mission 2007, People’s Daily Online, July 27, 2007.

It is possible to read all sorts of things into these joint exercises. Ironically, perhaps one of the most astute observers of the SCO is Fidel Castro, the ailing President of Cuba who, for the last year has the leisure to think about the SCO. He picked up on an assessment by a Russian military official of the potential for SCO—not for the defeat of terrorist activities in Chechnya or Western China, but for a challenge to the United States:

On July 24th , the Russian news agency Ria Novosti published the following information:

Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, a defense expert, stated that the main instrument of the US policy is the economic, financial, technological and military dictate. . . . The United States would do anything in its power to prevent Russia from being an autonomous player. The debates on anti-missile defence, Iran and Kosovo, have not generated any formulas for compromise. It is important for Russia to consolidate its positions and recover its geopolitical potential. . . . In order to neutralize the plans for world hegemony it is necessary to build an alternative pole, and we already have the foundations to do so: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). . . . The SCO ought to recruit new allies and combine the potential of those countries which want to and are capable of implementing an autonomous policy. . . . Within the SCO framework, a novel philosophy could be formulated, based on the harmony among civilizations and on the rational use of natural resources. The majority of States will surely support such measures, of that I am convinced. Thus, a new political pole will come into being, the pole of peace. The SCO mission is to create a new model of development for human civilization.

Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflexión del Comandante en Jefe. Reflexión sobre duras y evidentes realidades. 3 de agosto del 2007 . While the United State sis busy building its own version of a new world order, based on privatizing globalization, free markets, democratic state governance and its understanding of rule of law, a number of other states are increasingly busy building an institutional architecture for a challenge to that system. Whether that alternative architecture will ever pose a substantial challenge to the current developing global system remains to be seen. But the eagerness of other nations to indulge these pursuits ought to worry the Americans.

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