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Political Work Department
General Political Department

In January 2016 China reorganized its four military headquarters -- staff, politics, logistics and armaments -- into 15 new agencies under the Central Military Commission (CMC). The Political Work Department performd the duties of the previous GPD, including political education, “human resources management,” and overseeing Party organizations within the military, Joel Wuthnow and Phillip C. Saunders report.

Some speculated that the Political Work Department might assume the responsibilities of the former GSD Military Affairs Department for enlisted personnel management. This department will be instrumental in strengthening the Party’s “absolute leadership” over the military, which has been a consistent theme of the reforms.

The General Political Department was responsible for ideological indoctrination, political loyalty, morale, personnel records, cultural activities, discipline, and military justice, and it provided the party structure for the PLA. It also published Jiefangjun Bao (Liberation Army Daily), the PLA's influential newspaper. The General Political Department director is at the head of a system of political commissars assigned to each echelon in the PLA. One of the primary tasks of the political commissar was the supervision of the party organization through party committees at the battalion level and above or through party branches in companies. Virtually all high-ranking officers in the military were party members.

Until the early 1980s, when party membership in the PLA was restricted, an effort was made to have a party or Communist Youth League member in every unit down to the smallest maneuver element. Political commissars were equal in rank and authority to the commander of their echelon in peacetime but theoretically deferred to the commander during war. Commissars assumed many time-consuming chores, such as personnel problems, relations with civilians, and troop entertainment.

The GPD maintains the CCP structure that exists at every level of the PLA. It holds the influential position of overseeing the political education, indoctrination and discipline that is a prerequisite for advancement within the PLA. The GPD controls the political commissar system that serves as the CCP structure, as well as the internal prison system of the PLA. In the event of internal disputes between factions in the PLA, the GPD will maintain absolute Party loyalty and control.

The General Political Department had no direct influence on PLA weapons procurement.

The political commissar is a household word heavily charged with politics and ideology, stretching back to the Northern Expedition of Mao’s Red Army in the 1920s and today’s People’s Liberation Army. The political officer system and party committee system are principally responsible for ensuring proper understanding of these requirements and to maintain ideological correctness and political obedience within the military.

Commanders and political commissars at all levels work closely to maintain political reliability and are jointly responsible for all aspects of the performance of their units. When certain hardware and technological capabilities are lacking, the PLA sees its political system as adding ideological strength to the balance of powerequation.

One commenter put it this way: " Experience shows that, given equality of weaponry and armaments, the fighting spirit decides the result of wars; given inferiority in weapons and armaments, a strong fighting spirit may make up for the inferiority in armaments, bring material strengths into full play, and create a miracle of using inferior weapons to defeat enemies armed with superior armaments under certain circumstances. Our military always pays great attention to cultivating the fighting spirit. Our military has been invincible and undefeatable throughout the longterm revolutionary wars because our military upholds a fearless spirit characterized by: “When fighting formidable enemies, we are braver than the enemies and we are stronger in the face of dangers and difficulties.”"

From outside the PLA, it is often difficult to tell whether any of the above claims are merely rhetorical repetition of the party line or are truly believed as inherent strengths of the Chinese armed forces. In recent years political officers have been called upon to increase their tactical proficiencies in military skills. The creation of the “Three Warfares,” — psychological warfare, media war, and legal war — has given the political officer system tactical responsibilities on the battlefield it did not have in the past. The incorporation of the “Three Warfares” into training and campaign planning is an important element of “integrated joint operations.”

Political officers perform the function of press or public affairs officers and lawyers in battlefield headquarters. Additionally, political officers are in the forefront of the psychological hardening training the PLA provides its troops to prepare them for the sights, sounds, and stresses of the modern battlefield.

Chinese ocean-going vessels started carrying political commissars in the early 1950s, shortly after the founding of the People’s Republic. In China, the deep-sea ship is commonly referred to as the ‘floating motherland’. To seafarers, the ship is said to stand for home, security, warmth and life, indeed for the ‘motherland’. The motherland is associated with socialism and control and the commissar is a means of guaranteeing that the voice of the Party is heard and its rules and policies implemented on board ship.

Xi Jin-ping was recruited by the CMC's general office and became a secretary from 1979 to 1982 just after he graduated from Tsinghua University. Xi's official biography especially noted that he was in active service on his first job. In his following political career as local Party chief, Xi frequently held a concurrent post of the chief political officer for local organizations of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

He served as the first political commissar and first secretary of the Party committee of people's armed forces department of Zhengding County, Hebei Province, from 1983 to 1985 when he was the secretary of the county's Party committee.

Xi later served as the first secretary of the sub-military area commands' Party committees of Ningde and Fuzhou, both in Fujian Province, from 1988 to 1993. Xi was the first political commissar of the anti-aircraft artillery reserve division of southeast Fujian province from 1996 to 1999 when he was deputy secretary of the CPC's committee in Fujian. Xi also held the post of deputy director of the national defense mobilization commission of the PLA's Nanjing Military Area Command from 1999 to 2003.

When he served as the Party chief of China's largest city Shanghai in 2007, he also held the first secretary of the Party committee of the PLA's Shanghai Garrison.

In October 2012, the appointment of a new air force chief and a new top political officer reveals how the purge of Bo Xilai, the former party secretary of Chongqing whose grab for power threw the party into its worst crisis in decades, has hit his allies in the armed forces. Gen Zhang Yang was promoted from political commissar of the Guangzhou military region to director of the general political department. His promotion to director of the PLA’s general political department spells an abrupt end to the career hopes of some high-profile officers who had been seen as contenders for the CMC.

China appointed the former chief of the general office of the Central Military Commission as the new political commissar of the People's Liberation Army Navy, media reports said. Lieutenant General Qin Shengxiang appeared on Wednesday in his new role at a ceremony in Qingdao, Shandong province, to send off a Navy flotilla for military exercises with Russia, CCTV reported 14 September 2017.

Qin, 60, had been chief of the general office of the commission since December 2012. The commission is the top military ruling body in China, with President Xi Jinping as its chairman. After the structural reform of the commission was completed in January 2016, Qin also became head of the new Office for Reform and Organizational Structure.

General Miao Hua, the former political commissar of the PLA Navy, was recently named head of the commission's Political Work Department. A series of shuffles of top-ranking PLA officers had taken place since August 2017.

Zhang Yang, a member of the Central Military Commission (CMC), committed suicide at his home in Beijing on Nov. 23, after authorities launched an investigation into his links to two corrupt former senior military figures, Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou [one of the new “Gang of Four”], the CMC said 28 November 2017.

Zhang, a former member of the Communist Party of China Central Military Commission and former head of the CMC Political Work Department, hanged himself in his home. The CMC decided to hold "talks" with Zhang to investigate his involvement in the cases of Guo and Xu, two former CMC vice chairmen, on 28 August 2017.

A Chinese military court on 25 July 2016 sentenced Guo Boxiong, former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), to life in prison for accepting bribes. Guo was also deprived of his political rights for life and stripped of his rank of general. His personal assets were seized, and all his illicit gains were confiscated and turned over to the state treasury.

Investigators said that Zhang had seriously violated discipline and law. He was also suspected of offering and accepting bribes and holding a huge amount of property from unidentified sources. "Evading the punishment of Party discipline and law by committing suicide was disgusting conduct," said a commentary on the official website of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

The commentary said that "the case of Zhang Yang shows that a lot still needs to be done in eliminating the pernicious influence of Guo and Xu, and in the construction of Party conduct and honest, clean government, as well as in the fight against corruption. "The army should thus nourish toughness and perseverance as if they are always 'on the road,' to eradicate any virus that corrodes the health of the PLA," the commentary said.

China's top military leadership body has institutionalized military inspections by publishing a revised regulation that experts said on 17 January 2018 will deter corruption and disloyalty. "Military inspection work faces a new situation and that's why the CMC (Central Military Commission) decided to revise the proposed regulation of CMC inspection work, which was published in September 2013, into the latest version," an official from the commission's leading group office of inspection work told the PLA Daily.

"New situation" means a prolonged period of peace, said Xu Guangyu, a retired major general and senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association. "Unavoidably, the Chinese military has seen some corruption due to the fast development of a market economy," Xu told the Global Times.

Fang Fenghui, former chief of staff of the commission's Joint Staff Department, became the latest senior military officer to be investigated in China's ongoing anti-corruption drive.

Issues may arise when the PLA conducts exchanges with foreign militaries, Xu noted. For instance, some foreign regulations unsuitable for the PLA or bad habits from other military forces - such as loose discipline and weaker political awareness - can undermine the correct mindset of Chinese military personnel, he warned. Therefore, Xu said, "the Chinese military needs new measures to overcome these new challenges."

Senior Communist Party members "at the rank of military corps and above will be overseen by full-time inspection teams," reads the newly revised regulation. Regular inspection teams will supervise Party committees of the Central Military Commission, the army, navy, air force, rocket force and strategic support troops of the People's Liberation Army as well as the armed police, according to the regulation that took effect 15 January 2018.

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Page last modified: 18-01-2018 17:06:55 ZULU