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Additional considerations on the North Korean strategy

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According to the best-informed US analysts, the response to North Korea’s  further military escalation should consist in Japan’s and South Korea’s nuclear rearmament. It would be the response, but also the explicit justification, for North Korea’s rearmament. According to the US military decision-makers, however, the preventive  conventional confrontation could be divided into four alternatives:

1) the launch of Tomahawk missiles from the land and sea borders, but certainly North Korea would respond immediately, by also using the approximately sixty tunnels in the territory of the South Republic and its underground military airports in the North.

2) Bombings on North Korea by Stealth aircraft which – as North Korea knows all too well –  can carry nuclear warheads. Also in this case, however, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea could react by hitting the US bombers directly or by launching limited missile attacks against US installations in South Korea.

3) The US aircraft launch of some Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs), the new “bunker buster” bombs penetrating and destroying  tunnels,  hardened targets or targets buried deep underground – an action coupled with that of the “electromagnetic railguns” that could be fired by some US ships. A Hollywood action movie scenario having two limits: the low reliability of the two new weapons and the fact that North Korea has not only hidden, but also visible bases.

 Moreover, the visible bases can react to the US operations from the South or from the sea in a very short time, shorter than the duration of the US  attack itself.

 It is also worth noting the scarce trust the US military decision-makers have in the South Korean armed forces, never mentioned in these programs.

 In North Korea, the US Presidency wants to hit mainly the structures producing and collecting nuclear weapons; the facilities to build and keep missiles; launch bases, especially the mobile ones; the nuclear submarine ports and the artillery stations near the Demilitarized Zone.

  Hence let us do some accounting.

  North Korea has ten major military bases; fourteen missile launch bases in addition to at least ten additional mobile bases already in operation; two bases for nuclear tests and sixty-four nuclear weapons already available.

 Too many targets to enable the United States, and possibly South Korea, to carry out a limited action on the Demilitarized Line not triggering off a response at the highest level.

 If the US forces’ operations are targeted they are irrelevant, while if they cause significant damage they are a real act of war.

 As often repeated by Kim Jong Un, North Korea sees the US strategy in “peripheral” countries, now defined by the end of Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Gaddafi.

 Considering those examples, the North Korean leader does not trust the United States should they win a war against him.

 Hence any attack on North Korea, albeit limited, would immediately trigger off  the greatest possible reaction.

 Furthermore, pending a US attack – also only counterforce and not counter-resource – North Korea could also attack, with conventional carriers, the South Korean areas the United States needs as bases.

 Currently the US military installations in South Korea are twenty-seven,  all in areas that can be hit by North Korean missiles with an acceptable degree of precision and accuracy.

 According to the Western intelligence sources, with approximately sixty nuclear warheads available; a potential missile average range of 10,400 kilometres; 5,000 tons of nerve gas already stocked; 1,300 aircraft; 300 helicopters; 430 warships; 70 submarines; 4,300 tanks; 2,500 armoured vehicles and 5,500 multiple launchers, North Korea is by no means an easy opponent.

 Obviously such a military build-up can safely sustain a second nuclear strike and launch a second nuclear salvo against the enemy even after a first nuclear attack from the United States and South Korea, as well as maintain sufficient conventional forces to be used after the exchange of nuclear strikes.

  It is also worth adding that South Korea’s central Command has claimed it suffered a cyberattack in December 2016, which means that North Korea has all South Korea’s Command plans available and, we assume, even much of the US military planning involving South Korean forces.

 As maintained in a recent Workers’ Party document, the North Korean nuclear forces are not a way to get money from “imperialists”.

 As claimed by the North Korean single Party’s leadership, they are a way to reaffirm their independence until “imperialists” disarm their nuclear warheads “all over the world.”

 Reading between the lines, this is the ideological rationale of the construction of missiles capable of reaching the US territory, so as to simultaneously threaten both the US allies in Southeast Asia and Japan and the United States itself.

 As already seen, the layout of bases and the amount of warheads do not permit a US “surgical” action which, however, would be interpreted as the beginning of a real war.

 In 2016, North Korea carried out over 20 missile launches. Strategically this means that North Korea wants to mainly implement the intercontinental and the submarine-launched ballistic missile sectors, in particular.

 This is a way to increase the likelihood threshold for nuclear or conventional attacks and to create “double deterrence”, namely deterrence towards the US stations in the Pacific and on the US territory.

 Furthermore Kim Jong Un is steadily in power and he is rapidly getting stronger.

 Since his rise to power in 2011, the North Korean leader has “eliminated” at least seventy officials or military officers, in addition to a much larger number of them who have been “purged” according to the best traditions of Communist Parties in power.

 Kim Jong Un’s policy line has been designed to combine military and economic development – the policy line the Workers’ Party has hoped since 2003, by supporting North Korea’s entry into the “knowledge-based economy” and the expansion of “light industry”.

 This is the Korean translation of the Chinese model of economic reform after the Four Modernizations. It is the North Korean variation of Xi Jinping’s “great reform”, although the two countries are currently not in the best phase of their relations.

 From a strategic viewpoint, China views for North Korea the implementation of three points, summarized in a principle that Xi Jinping plans to support with the utmost clarity and speed: “no war, no instability and no nuclear weapons” – a principle that after the 2013 tests has been reworded in the policy line of ” denuclearization, peace, stability and fast resumption of the Six Party Talks”.

 I think that the Chinese policy is fully rational.

 China does not want a strong nuclear power on its borders, even if it were a friendly country.

 Certainly, North Korea is an excellent buffer State avoiding the contact between the forces of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the US forces in South Korea – a primary strategic target.

 Nevertheless if the North Korean nuclear strategy gets global and capable of making both the US territory and some Pacific countries – with which China has and wants to maintain good relations – the target of a nuclear attack, the calculation of the Chinese strategic equation on North Korea gets complex and not necessarily positive.

 Moreover, the Chinese ruling class is still divided on North Korea’s  denuclearization. The Chinese decision-makers fear a collapse of the regime following the denuclearization and hence a crisis that would immediately affect China’s territory.

 Hence it is exactly this ambiguity among the Chinese leaders which enables North Korea to keep on strengthening and upgrading its nuclear arsenal undisturbed.

Currently, however, the perceptions of the two main players, namely the United States and North Korea, are still to be changed in the light of a better understanding of both countries’ global strategy.

 The United States and South Korea do not want to invade the North Korean territory.

 The United States does not want new territories. It possibly wants  “friendly” States not annoying it militarily, hosting their bases – and the United States already have nearly 800 bases around the world –  not signing adverse commercial agreements and accepting the dollar in international transactions. Nothing else.

 Or, more precisely, only the United States has no interest in following this military option.

  And it is the country organizing South Korean forces.

 Hence the United States has no interest in direct invasion. Indeed, the more North Korea extends its range of ICBMs, the more the United States feels threatened, in a region where it wants to maintain its hegemony. Therefore the United States can be really pushed to organize a preventive attack.

Probably said attack would end up as already described. In that case, however, two new factors should be assessed: North Korea’s comparative  weakness faced with a long-range attack, which would certainly cause some serious damage, and the North Korean forces’ immediate reaction, which would not make the US attack easy.

 Moreover, we must consider the reaction of the Russian Federation and China, which would surely strengthen their defences on the border with North Korea, in their maritime area, and would condemn the United States, as usual. Finally they would be strategically obliged to give again credit to North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities.

 The United States must not always think that the leader of a country not accepting its hegemony is always “crazy.”

 It did so with Hitler, who had some psychological disorders but was not crazy – otherwise we should think that the huge German masses who followed him were mad. The same holds true for Mussolini, who had syphilis but was not crazy, as well as for all the Third World leaders who did not accept the division of the world after the Second World War.

 Like it or not, Kim Jong Un’s strategy makes both China and Russia enter the game. They are both interested in the denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula – hence the United States must consider both countries’  possible moves, which do not depend on assessments regarding North Korea’s alleged “crazy” leader, but on objective analyses of the strategic interests on the field.

 The first possible move could be to support Kim Jong Un and the second one  – not ruling out the former one – would be a credible denial area on the sea, directed mainly against the US and South Korean operations.

 Furthermore, considering Trump’s leadership problems at national level, he could seriously be tempted to carry out a military action that would set internal tensions aside and would also be the implementation, in foreign policy, of the principle “America First”.

 If China and Russia do not make North Korea understand that the old brinkmanship theory is now over, something irreparable will probably happen.

 Furthermore the United States currently understands nothing of what happens beyond its borders. Years of “exporting democracy” and Arab Springs have not enabled the US leaders to be updated on the political, cultural and social evolutions of the countries with which they come into contact.

 Therefore, although currently there are three secret communication channels between the United States and North Korea, it cannot be said that the United States can truly understand the North Korean strategic logic.

 Currently Russia and China could do without North Korea. They can leverage with the United States alone and do no longer need the North Korean “dragon’s snout”.

 This is a disadvantage for Kim Jong Un. Both powers, however, do not yet understand Trump’s foreign policy and, in doubt, they could choose the most adverse variable vis-à-vis the United States

 I am sure that Kim Jong Un knows this and also knows how to analyse this data.

 China’s and Russia’s interest, however, is always to contain the United States in South Korea, as well as avoid military contact and, above all, prevent a denial area coming from South Korea.

 Beyond this limit, both countries are no longer interested in North Korea’s nuclear power and capacity.

 Hence the North Korean leader can rethink his nuclear and conventional strategy, by relating it – at least for a small part – to the Asian Heartland strategy.

 Therefore the 2005 Six Party Talks should be resumed immediately.

 With these fundamental policy lines and aims: a peace treaty between the two Koreas; North Korea’s denuclearization, but also partial denuclearization of South Korea, with a reduction of US forces stationed on the South Korean territory; economic and technological support to North Korea; establishment of normal diplomatic relations between North Korea, the United States and Japan; energy cooperation.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Russia and the end of North Korea’s Tong-mi bong-nam strategy

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North Korea’s decades old strategy of ‘Tong-mi bong-nam’ (Engage the United States, Block South Korea) and its rare variant ( ‘Tong-nam bong-mi’ or Engage South Korea, Block the US) of breaking the Washington-Seoul axis by alternatively cooperating with one in order to isolate the other so as to manoeuvre its way through it has seen a shift recently as Pyongyang moves closer to Russia.

Tensions have been high on the Korean Peninsula since the election of the conservative President Yoon Seok-youl, who has adopted a “Kill Chain” strategy to preemptively target the Kim regime in the face of an imminent nuclear threat. Cooperation has been restricted to calls for reunion of families across the border along with disarmament linked “audacious”  economic aid in order to denuclearise Pyongyang, which stands at the cusp of its worst economic crisis post the pandemic. However, surprisingly, North Korea has not only rejected the offer but has declared itself a nuclear state by adopting a law which rules out the possibility of denuclearisation by allowing Pyongyang to conduct preemptive strikes to protect itself. With a possible nuclear test on the cards, the Russian hand behind such bold moves cannot be overlooked.

Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has emboldened North Korea in more ways than one: it has not only challenged the invincibility of the Western powers whom Pyongyang defines as “hostile” but has also created demands for North Korean weaponry for a sanction pressed Russia to continue the war, promising to fill Pyongyang’s coffers with much needed foreign reserves. While North Korea has denied these claims, its increased proximity with Moscow is too conspicuous to gloss over. The most significant consequence however has been a change in North Korea’s policy towards Seoul and Washington.

Efficiently using it to challenge Seoul’s participation in any peace negotiations since the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953, the strategy of Tong-mi bong-nam was employed again in 1994 when faced with recurrent famines and massive food shortages, Pyongyang agreed to denuclearise under the Agreed Framework and eventually normalise its relationship with the US. The idea was to extract economic aid while isolating Seoul after tensions soared over the latter not sending official condolences on Kim il-Sung’s death. 

The strategy was reversed in South’s favour  when relations with Washington soured after it imposed a fresh series of sanctions against Pyongyang’s nuclear proliferation programme in April 1998 and North Korea positively responded to Kim Dae-Jung’s Sunshine Policy which resulted in the historic June 15 summit of 2000, where the  the leaders of the two Koreas met for the first time post the division in 1945. President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” comment further worsened US-North Korean ties which led Pyongyang to not only break off contacts with both the US and South Korea but also withdraw from the NPT in January 2003. Although South Korean efforts and North Korea’s mounting economic crisis  succeeded in bringing Pyongyang to the Six Party Talks where Seoul argued that North’s security concerns be taken into account before pushing for denuclearisation, Washington’s rigid stance that North Korea denuclearises first  resulted in a stalemate. Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test in 2006 inviting more stringent sanctions and eventually withdrew from the Six Party talks in 2009. After successive conservative governments which favoured a hard stance towards North Korea virtually stalled negotiations, President Moon Jae-in’s friendly approach resulted in a major breakthrough in Inter-Korean relations in the form of the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration which called for phased disarmament, at a time when Pyongyang’s economy was at its lowest in the past two decades and tensions with the Trump administration soared high. The breakdown of the 2019 Hanoi Summit between North Korea and the US finally ended cooperation.

The above cases illustrate how efficiently North Korea has used Tong-mi bong-nam as a manoeuvring tool where negotiations were undertaken only during times of economic crisis while nuclear proliferation continued to remain a priority to achieve  reunification of the peninsula in a way favourable to Pyongyang. Moreover, Kim Jong-un has learnt from the case of Gadaffi’s Libya that engaging the West in denuclearisation would only provide limited respite while possession of nuclear weapons not only creates a strong deterrence against attacks by much powerful adversaries but also fuels nuclear nationalism thus reproducing regime legitimacy even at its weakest moments. Hence, he has nipped all chances of achieving complete denuclearisation in the bud. While China has so far played a major role in moderating Pyongyang’s aggression by prioritising regional stability considering its own geopolitical and economic interests over countering the US; Russia’s bold violation of UNSC sanctions by not only trading with Pyongyang but also demonstrating active interest in  employing North Korean workers and labelling the bilateral relationship as being of “mutual interest” speaks volumes about the greater latitude it is willing to provide its anti-American ally in pressing forward with its agenda.

Though Tong-mi bong-nam has served North Korea’s interests by aiding it in extracting economic benefits while dodging commitments over complete denuclearisation, it has simultaneously acted as the only window for Seoul and Washington to negotiate with Pyongyang. As its raison d’être, namely North’s economic and diplomatic isolation, wanes with Moscow’s support; the hope for denuclearisation might be lost forever specifically as the US and South Korea continue to  seek “overwhelming” military response to resolve the crisis which might lead to unimaginably dangerous consequences. The need of the hour is to multilaterally engage with both Russia and North Korea on disarmament and lift sanctions in a phased manner while ensuring that the two abide by their commitments.

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The SCO seeks for a new role in the post-Ukrainian crisis world

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During the Samarkand summit which was held during September 15-16, the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) signed the landmark Samarkand Declaration, advanced Iran’s accession, start the process for Belarus to become a full member, while approving Bahrain, Maldives, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Myanmar as dialogue partners. Additionally, the SCO issued groundbreaking statements and documents, marking the first time that member states have jointly spoken out on emerging issues, such as climate change, supply chain security and international energy security. All of these progresses verify that the SCO has come of the age over the past two decades. There is no question that the SCO is now the largest regional cooperation organization in the world. Over half of the world’s population lives in its member states, accounting for about 25% of the global GDP—and those states have a powerful intellectual and technological potential and a considerable part of the global natural resources.

As one of the two leading drivers of the SCO, Russia has played the tremendous role in its development and solidarity of all member states in principle and in reality as well. This year, despite the Ukrainian war drags on for over 200 days, Russia still acted influentially to promote Iran’s “earliest possible accession” to the SCO legally and Belarus’s beginning the accession process. As President Putin said during the summit, “There are many more countries that seek membership in or association with the SCO. All are welcomed because the SCO is a “non-bloc association and rather working with the whole world.” It is also true that in a very complicated international situation, the SCO is not “marking time,” but rather continuing to develop and build its role in addressing international and regional issues—maintaining peace and stability “throughout the vast Eurasian space.”

Echoing the coming changes in global politics and the economy which are about to undergo fundamental and irreversible changes, it is obvious that there are new “centers of power” emerging, and the interaction among them is inclusively based on universally recognized principles of the rule of international law and the UN Charter, namely, equal and indivisible security and respect for each other’s sovereignty, national values and interests. Given this, this article aims to argue what role the SCO would be able to play in the next twenty years?

The SCO holds tremendous potential for the future of international community and particularly in the fields of ensuring energy security and food security. Accordingly, the latest joint statement proposes to avoid excessive fluctuations in the prices of international bulk commodities in the energy sector, ensure the safety and stability of international food and energy resources’ transportation channels, and to smooth the international production and supply chain. To insure these ends, the statement also underlines adherence to the principle of technology neutrality as it is the key to encourage the research and application of various clean and low-carbon energy technologies. Given this, the Samarkand summit is a milestone both in the development of the SCO and building of a SCO community with shared future. Accordingly, the SCO will adhere to the principle of not targeting third parties as the Final Declaration states that the SCO seeks to ensure peace, security and stability. In reality, SCO members intend to jointly further develop cooperation in politics and security, trade, economy, finance and investments, cultural and humanitarian relations “in order to build a peaceful, safe, prosperous and environmentally friendly planet Earth.”

In the overall terms, China has played the significant role in joint promoting of the SCO as Russia admitted that in unison with the Chinese side, the existence of a unipolar world is impossible. Moscow and Beijing have agreed that it’s an impossible situation when the wealthy West is claiming the right to invent rules in economy, in politics and the right to impose its will on other countries. The foundation of the unipolar system has started to seriously creak and wobble. A new reality is emerging. Now it is more apparent that the obsolete unipolar model is being superseded by a new world order based on the fundamental principles of justice, equality, and the recognition of the right of each nation and state to its sovereign path of development. Put it more precisely, strong political and economic centers acting as a driving force of this irreversible process are being shaped in the Asia Pacific region.

Echoing the consensus among the SCO member states and their partners in the Eurasian domain, President Xi spoke at the summit that the successful experience of the SCO has been based on political trust, win-win cooperation, equality between nations, openness and inclusiveness, and equity and justice. They are not only the source of strength for the development of the SCO but also the fundamental guide that must be followed strictly in the years to come. Given that under the volatile world, the SCO, as an important constructive force in international and regional affairs, should keep itself well-positioned in the face of changing international dynamics, constantly enhance strategic independence, consolidate and deepen solidarity and cooperation, and build a closer SCO community with a shared future.

More specifically, China has not only presented the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative, but also carried out the initiatives with real actions. In addition, the SCO greets the new round of the largest expansion of the SCO membership has consolidated its status and influence as the most populous regional cooperation organization with the vastest territory in the world. The expansion fully demonstrates that the SCO is not a closed and exclusive “small clique” but an open, inclusive “big family”. As a new type of international organization comprising 26 countries, the SCO is increasingly showing strong vitality and bright prospects for development including that it will inject new impetus into peace and prosperity in Eurasia and beyond and play an exemplary role in building a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind.

In sum, the SCO has gained greater significance with the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, where an economically weaker Russia is turning to East in general and China in particular as Beijing and Moscow vow to be a partner with no limits and leading coordination over the SCO. In addition, the comprehensive strategic partnership of China and Russia covers a bilateral agenda, multilateral trade and economic cooperation and shared security concerns of all concerned. In the face of outrageous Western sanctions, the SCO demonstrates stability, continues to develop progressively, and gains momentum. China is sure to play the constructive role of promoting their business to the global level, including strengthening the basis of economic cooperation among SCO member states, allowing the launch of free economic zones, and implementing large-scale infrastructure projects globally.

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Factionalism in the Chinese Communist Party: From Mao to Now

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With the crucial 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) set to commence on October 16, here’s a look at the different factions that have historically existed within the Party, otherwise considered a highly centralised and monolithic organisation.

Democratic Centralism

Described by Lenin as “freedom of discussion, unity of action”, Democratic Centralism is a Marxist-Leninist theoretical concept which attempts to strike a balance between inner Party democracy and organisational unity as an assurance that decisions could be efficiently made without stifling ideological struggles within the Party which emerge in the form of dissent. It was first specifically adopted as the organising principle of a Marxist party in the Soviet Union by both Bolshevik and Menshevik factions of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP)  at their separate conferences in 1905 and was unanimously adopted at the Party Unity Congress in 1906. Initially seen to be compatible with the existence of factions, a more rigid idea of Democratic Centralism was adopted at the 10th Party Congress in 1921 when all factions were outlawed in the name of Party unity. While the intention was not to wipe out the democratic discourse altogether, ‘monolithic unity’ vertically imposed by the late 1920s supplanted all free debate.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) at its 17th Congress in 1934  defined the four cardinal points of Democratic Centralism as follows:

election of all leading bodies of the Party; their periodic accountability to their respective organisations; strict party discipline &  the subordination of the minority to the majority and decisions of higher bodies to be absolutely binding on lower bodies and on party members.

 In other words, free debate and discussion would be allowed to exist within the ranks of the Party till a decision is taken by the higher body after which it must be faithfully followed and implemented by all lower ranks in the name of Party discipline  without any collective attempts to block the decision. Factionalism thus, came to be seen as a serious offense of sabotaging Party unity. The Third Communist International (1919-43) called for  Democratic Centralism to be strictly implemented by all fellow Communist parties across the world which continued even after its dissolution in 1943.

The Chinese Communist Party, through the  slogan ‘Centralism based on Democracy and Democracy Under Centralist Guidance’ (《民主基础上的集中,集中知道下的民主》), describes its role as focused on the inclusion of popular opinion which is considered  extremely important not just for the successful implementation of its policies but also as the raison d’être of its rule however concurrently, it considers them too vague to be implemented as they exist. The CCP thus sees itself as the central sieve through which mass opinions would be filtered off their vagueness and effective policies could be formulated as it is considered to be in best possession of both the knowledge of Marxism-Leninism and interests of the masses. Party cadres would go to the masses and raise their demands at the Party meetings followed by a debate, also known as the Mass Line approach. Once the decision is taken, there would be no further discussion and the cadres would faithfully implement the policies among the populace with iron discipline.

After a brief period of decentralisation post the 1978 Reform and Opening up, Centralism was reintroduced following the Tiananmen Square Movement of 1989 and more so after the fall of the USSR in 1991 in order to avert a possible legitimacy crisis. Since then streams of Centralism and Democracy have alternatively dominated leadership views. In his speech at the 17th Party Congress, Hu Jintao emphasised on the need to strengthen intra Party democracy as a part of Democratic Centralism. In contrast, Xi Jinping in 2016 emphasised on the need to integrate centralisation on a democratic basis while urging the members to display “pure and utmost” loyalty to the Party.

Guanxi (关系)

Though Articles 3(5) and  10 of the CCP Constitution  prohibit factionalism within the Party in the name of Democratic Centralism, interest groups nevertheless exist through informal networks based on  personal ties called Guanxi (关系). Guanxi has its roots in the Confucian tradition which emphasises on the feeling of belongingness among members of a family or an organisation. Such a  nexus functions in a reciprocal way where the followers look for career security and advancement under the protection of a senior leader who ensures their interests are served in the upper rungs in exchange for their support, for instance, Hu Jintao was known to have led a group of his comrades from his Communist Youth League (CYL) days  called Tuanpai (团派) in his entourage. While in itself testifying the presence of factionalism, this relationship often results in emergence of factions due to its unstable nature. All chosen successors to the General Secretary in the Party’s history have been purged by their own patrons (Mao and Deng) with the sole exception of Deng Xiaoping’s protégé, Jiang Zemin. Inconsistent leadership decision making, with opinions swinging between “Left adventurism” and “Right opportunism” under Mao and “Emancipation of Mind” and “Socialist Spiritual Civilisation” under Deng too has given rise to interest groups within the Party.

Other features of China’s political system which give rise to factionalism include  power entrusted to individual leaders in a hierarchical context; the monopoly of the Communist Party over all legal channels of expression of diverse interests; absence of a formal structure of decision making and interference of the military in politics.

Factions at a glance

The origins of Guanxi networks can be traced back to Shantou (山头)or “mountain top” alliances which date back to the Party’s early days. Facing a hostile Nationalist Party (国民党) and Japanese forces, the CCP was nurtured in independent and isolated rural basecamps which were often located in rugged hilly terrain. Thus, each Shantou became a locus of its leader’s power.  The hostile and dangerous conditions necessitated a close bond between leaders and their followers which fragmented member’s loyalty towards the CCP as a Party as the primary allegiance was paid to the leader and not to the organisation.

Though Mao in his On Contradiction (1937) defined intra Party differences and discussions as a symbol of its vitality and liveliness, he was very strict about expression of dissent outside the Party apparatus which was seen as an attempt to break away from the Party and resulted almost always in purges. Even as Mao successfully established his line of thought as the single ideological core of the Party during the Yenan Rectification Campaign of 1942, ground realities built conditions for the existence of factions which continued as external channels of communication among political associates, outlets of their diverse interests and command system of their forces. Informal Factionalism continued to drive the Party’s inner politics even after the victory in the Civil War in 1949. While Mao could establish himself as the Chairman, his sole legitimacy to rule still faced challenges since all his associates had comparable experience and contribution to enlist. As a result, though working under Mao, leaders such as Zhou Enlai and Peng Dehuai continued to remain influential in a system where they were not expected to do so. Cautious of not upsetting Mao,these leaders often collaborated amongst themselves to weather any crisis which Mao read as a threat to his own power and hence, he launched the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) as an anti-organisation movement so as to tie all strands of loyalty to himself and not the Party where other leaders still exercised influence.

Interestingly, a penchant for a similar policy did not always translate into unity among members, the classic example being the fallout between Liu Shaoqi and Mao Zedong who did not just share policy preferences on most issues but had also joined the Party at the same time and worked together. Similarly, both Lin Biao and the Gang of Four (四人帮) were on the same page in the trajectory of the revolution but it was the power struggle amongst them which ultimately led to Lin’s fall. During Deng’s regime, Chen Yun and Peng Zhen’s shared conservativeness did not prevent Chen from blocking Peng’s path to the Politburo Standing Committee. Both Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were reform minded but Zhao held his silence when Hu was ousted. Similarly, it was on the basis of personal networks that Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun remained the most powerful leaders throughout their lives without holding any official position. 

The economic reforms of the post Mao period further split internal unity into those who continued to stick with the Maoist line, demanding strict obedience to the socialist model of development and those who believed in inching closer to an open, market oriented economy. Economic interests thus play a major role in guiding factionalism, with the emergence of a ‘Petroleum faction’ within the CCP of those associated with the crude oil industry being a noticeable example.

Common political origins have also formed a ground for development of factions. Like Hu’s Tuanpai, Jiang Zemin was known to promote those who had worked for him previously in the Shanghai administration which led to the rise of a “Shanghai Clique” when he ascended the top position. Xi is similarly known to be leading a  “Fujian Clique” as his ascension to power was soon followed by the promotion of his former associates Wang Xiaohong and Deng Weiping to senior positions. He has also promoted his protégés from his home province of Shaanxi. Xi is not only known to secure the interests of “Princelings” (太子党 or children of high ranking Communist leaders as himself) but to also further promote a “Tsinghua Faction” of his alma mater which is known to have existed since 2008 when 1 of the 7 members of the Politburo Standing Committee and 3 of the 25 members of the Politburo were alumni of the prestigious Tsinghua University. Xi Jinping has also actively promoted leaders such as Ma Xingrui and Zhang Qingwei from the Defense-Aerospace industry (军工航天系) to top civilian positions. Perhaps the starkest episode of factionalism within the CCP was the fall of Bo Xilai, Xi’s contender to the position of the General Secretary in 2012, which not just revealed the fault lines within the Party but also brought into question the fragmented loyalty of the military as many senior PLA officers closely associated with Bo such as Zhou Yongkang were found to have actively aided him in securing the most coveted position and were later tried and arrested for charges of corruption and abuse of power.

With speculations high that Xi is likely to evade the “seven up, eight down” (七上,八下) rule which restricts reappointments of senior leaders above the age of 68 and  the retirement of Li Keqiang as the Premier, groups such as the CYL faction are likely to be further marginalised while the prominence of those close to Xi Jinping is bound to prevail at the upcoming Party Congress which might result in the likely promotion of leaders like Chen Min’er and Ding Xuexiang. 

Factionalism within the CCP does not just stand as the testimony of the dynamics in Chinese politics but also provides a window into the otherwise opaque world of its functioning.

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