Politics Watch: Decoding the Convening of Enlarged Military Meetings

◎ Xi is likely seeking to strengthen his control over the military in a crucial period.

Provincial military commands in several provinces held enlarged plenary meetings this week, according to state media reports on Jan. 10.

The key points relayed in those enlarged meetings include:
1. Pass on and learn from the “spirit of the Central Military Commission enlarged meeting.”

2. Pass on the spirit of the enlarged meetings of the local military theater Party committee and the National Defense Mobilization Department of the CMC.

3. Emphasize the studying and implementation of “Xi Jinping Thought” and “Xi Jinping Thought on Military Strengthening.”

4. Uphold the Xi “core” leadership, the authority of the CCP Central Committee, and the CMC chairman responsibility system.

5. Review the work in 2018, and prepare the 2019 missions.

The backdrop:
1. Xi Jinping chaired a meeting of the CMC on Jan. 4. During the meeting, he ordered the military to “enhance combat readiness” and signed a mobilization order for the training of troops.

2. In recent weeks, four of the PLA’s five major branches (Ground Force, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force) and the People’s Armed Police held ceremonies for the promotion of major generals (45 in total).

The big picture:
1. The week of Jan. 7 saw China and the United States hold vice ministerial-level trade negotiations in Beijing.

2. The rescheduling of provincial-level “Two Sessions” suggests that the 19th CCP Central Committee could hold its Fourth Plenum near the end of the month.

Our take:
1. From the official news reports of the enlarged military meetings and the over 100 attendees of the CMC meeting on Jan. 4, it appears that the Jan. 4 CMC meeting was an enlarged meeting.

Xi Jinping might have convened an enlarged meeting of the CMC to further consolidate his authority and demand that the military show its fealty to the Xi “core.”

2. Many observers believe that Xi’s call for the PLA to “enhance combat readiness” is aimed at threatening Taiwan since the CMC meeting (Jan. 4) was held shortly after Xi made a speech to mark the 40th anniversary of improving PRC-ROC relations (Jan. 2).

While we concur that the CMC meeting may be held with Taiwan in mind, we believe that it had the more pressing purpose of suppressing domestic political tensions to allow Xi to convene the Fourth Plenum. (See our Dec. 17 analysis: “Xi’s Reform Anniversary Speech Signals Political Crisis in China”)

3. Per the CCP’s past practices, the CMC usually hold enlarged meetings when the CCP regime is about to make major policy direction changes or when there is a shift in political power. For instance, Deng Xiaoping handed over the CMC chairmanship to Jiang Zemin at a CMC enlarged meeting on November 1989; the September 2004 CMC enlarged meeting saw Jiang pass on the CMC chairmanship to Hu Jintao; and Hu transferred the CMC chairmanship to Xi Jinping in November 2012.

The CCP typically does not publicly report that a CMC enlarged meeting had been convened. A rare exception is the November 2012 meeting, which was publicized in a high-profile manner.