China’s Mechanism of Civilian Control


The analysis of military and political status and capability of a nation, region or a group can provide a very incentive angle which aids in the comprehension of that particular region in terms of upholding a peaceful environment. China deploys a mechanism that ineffectively tends to immerse adequate power to the civilians and control the military capability of the country. It restricts some corridors of power only to be accessed by common citizens or their representatives.

The chain of command in china is understood clearly but the roles and mandate of top officials is somehow flawed and these loopholes fuel speculation of incompetence towards the military capability of the country (Bakshi, 2015). China’s Communist Party controls the military aspect of the whole country and immerses itself ax the supreme body leaving the citizens with little to object to.

The structuring of the Chinese political bodies tends to give rise to cases that question the integrity and confidence of military in china. It raises doubts as to whether there is proper communication of the officials in charge to the soldiers and the operations on the ground. The uncertainty and ambiguity in the ability to clearly define the chain of command in China and the power each ruler has been bestowed with poses a risk of having a dysfunctional military-civil relationship.


Exertion of civilian control over the military by China is accomplished in specific and unique ways from the conventional ones (Bush, 2007). The use of one civilian leader ensures is one of the ways the military is restricted from possessing too much power. The president has the mandate to dismiss any military official who defiles the orders or goes against their task description (Wortzel, 1999).

Composition of the body that controls the military is designed to overcome the challenges of having rogue operations or miscommunication in the chain of command (Garver, 2016). The Chinese Communist Party is the supreme party and chairs over all the critical operations of the country. The president who is the chair of the subjected party is also the head of the Central Military Commission which is a branch of the party.

The Chinese Communist Party gives all the powers to the heading members and the president. The People’s Liberation Army overlooks the military process from an operational level (Cheung, 2001). The dysfunctional system that is supposed to safeguard the civilian-military relationship is illustrated below showcasing the showmanship, loopholes of the whole process and the different ways such setbacks can be tackled with utter effectiveness.

Cordesman (2015), in his book Chinese Strategy and Military Modernization in 2015: A Comparative Analysis stated how the mechanisms employed to execute civilian authority over the military in China is effective in numerous ways. The president who is the head of the Chinese Communist Party and subsequently the military ensures the military does not stray from its objectives or conduct any damaging endeavors. In the same breathe; the Chinese Communist Party can make the president its core leader which further adds the powers that the president can exert on the people and the military. For instance, president Xi Jinping was made the core leader of the Chinese Communist Party by the congress of the party.

The structuring of the governing bodies of China creates certainty with civilian control over the military in mind. The distribution of power is placed on the right officials and the roles can be distinctly stated in most cases. The split of military task to the People’s Liberation Army is notably the most impressive factor that creates security that the military cannot be influenced by political affiliation which undermines their ability to perform tasks.

The PLA which arguably performs its task effectively creates an assurance that very few officials can influence its ability to perform duties in the way they deem fit. The lack of affiliation by the body that presides over the military from the political avenue makes it more secure and the president can represent the civilian authority over the military without having to worry about the political consequences. The civilian control over the military puts the military official disciplined since they are accountable and can be dismissed by the president.

In addition to the People’s Liberation Party, the Communist Party has the Central Military Commission that keenly oversees the activities and the degree of integrity that the People’s Liberation Party conducts its tasks. It is a link that conveys information and links the Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army. It also vets some vital posts in the Army. The structuring of the Chinese bodies plays a big role in maintaining the so much needed equilibrate of power and authority for a peaceful coexistence.

Demerits of Mechanisms Used in Civilian Control

The inadequacy of essential communication between the operational military personnel at the ground level and the leaders at the top has been clearly illustrated by multiple cases. In 2011, the Secretary of Defense was visiting China and during that period the Chinese forces tested their stealth fighter jets. This was showmanship that clearly portrayed incompetence since the president was allegedly not aware that the testing would take place during that time.

Secretary Gates later asked President Hu Jintao about the incident and he declined ever being informed about the test. This is fueled by the need for the Peoples Liberation Army to show power therefore they don’t inform the head officials at the Chinese Communist Party about the important military proceedings. The civilian control of the government which is to be represented by the president is not executed since the president himself has no news about some of the occurrences in the military. Furthermore, the stealth tests has occurred more than once which really raises questions as to whether they are coincidental or they are staged to showcase the power of their own volition.

The incidental rogue-like nature of the People’s Liberation Army undermines its discipline and loyalty (Danopoulos, 2004). The stealth tests conducted without the knowledge of the president and more damagingly during the visit of Secretary of Defense of United States shows how much independent the Army craves to be managed. This insinuates that the contingencies which the system has put in place to exalt civil control are flawed to some extent (Saunders, 2015). The attitude of the army leaves very little to be desired of.

In compliance to the lack of civilian control over the military, the ambiguity of power has been clearly portrayed during the resignation of President Jiang Zemin. During the peaceful transfer of power from the president to the then current leader of the CPP Hu Jintao, ambiguity of roles in the top level of governance was witnessed since no distinction had been placed by having the leader of the supreme party and the president both have power over the army.

This created uncertainty but the resignation marked the end of the uncertain period. The establishment of having two powerful roles representing the same purpose diminishes the authority and does not exert the civilian authority over the military as it should be. In the contrary, the Chinese however reinstated and secured further the civilian control over the military by placing the president Xi Jinping as the “core” leader of the Chinese Communist Party which is the supreme party.

This not only acknowledges him as one of the most powerful leaders to ever rule the superpower nation but creates more civilian control over the military and all other aspects of the government. Since the Chinese Communist Party has control over the military, handing the president more power creates more certainty that the military cannot overrun their duties without the consent and the approval of the president that represents the civilians (Rudolph, 2017). China as a nation uses this mechanism of enhancing the president’s power as a way of ensuring that the civilian authority over the military is constantly represented without the fear of sabotage by other top level officials, policies or the military personnel that overlook the operations.


In the book Democratization and Civilian Control in Asia, Croissant (2015) clearly illustrated how civilian control is vital and essential for the stability of the system. To create certainty and peace, the military has to be tamed appropriately so that they can conduct their duties ethically and morally (Welch, 1976). Establishing an effective martial law plays a role but it does not fully cover all the disciplinary aspects. The most notable reasons as to why civil control should be condoned by all means include the authority the military itself bears.

The civilian faculty on the other hand is democratic whereby most or all members should be consensual about the subject at hand (Finkelstein, 2007). It is participatory and this creates no advantage as to how they would create a voice of their own in cases of oppression amongst other inconveniences. This protects the vast majority of human population by putting them in power by representation as a method.

The military by nature and discipline promotes order and the need to conform to rules while civility adheres strongly to tolerate and encourage disagreement and debate-like environment. It applauds the ability to diversify and venture uniquely. Such sections of society would ideally coexist with utter fragility and one would overcome the other in terms of power and sovereignty.

In a nutshell, the reasonable restriction of power is very essential. The plans that are put in place, however flawed they may be, are still useful and influential in maintain peace in. In his book, China’s Military Modernization: Building for Regional and Global Reach, Fisher (2008) portrayed how the Chinese people entrust an individual to represent their desires on how to curate the military a force that can protect them.

The president upholds a high power that regulates and at times should need be, punish some officials for misconduct or any other faults. With a vast economy and population to back it up, the Chinese people need to have a military that has a strong moral background. The flaws in the system might slow down the effectiveness of the mechanisms put in place but the benefits clearly outweigh the former.

Works Cited

Bakshi, G D. China’s Military Power: A Net Assessment. , 2015.

Bush, Richard C, and Michael E. O’Hanlon. A War Like No Other: The Truth About China’s Challenge to America. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

Cheung, Tai M. China’s Entrepreneurial Army. Oxford [u.a.: Oxford Univ. Press, 2001.

Cordesman, Anthony H, Steven Colley, and Michael Wang. Chinese Strategy and Military Modernization in 2015: A Comparative Analysis. , 2015. Internet resource.

Croissant, Aurel. Democratization and Civilian Control in Asia. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Internet resource.

Danopoulos, Constantine P, Dhirendra Vajpeyi, and Amir Bar-or. Civil-military Relations, Nation Building, and National Identity: Comparative Perspectives. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2004.

Finkelstein, David M, and Kristen Gunness. Civil-military Relations in Today’s China: Swimming in a New Sea. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe, Inc, 2007.

Fisher, Richard D. China’s Military Modernization: Building for Regional and Global Reach. Westport, Conn: Praeger Security International, 2008.

Garver, John W. China’s Quest: The History of the Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic of China. , 2016.

Rudolph, Jonatan. Civil-military Relationship: Now and Then. New Delhi: Vij Books India Private Limited, 2017. Internet resource.

Saunders, Phillip C, and Andrew Scobell. Pla Influence on China’s National Security Policymaking. , 2015.

Welch, Claude E. Civilian Control of the Military. , 1976.

Wortzel, Larry M. Dictionary of Contemporary Chinese Military History. Westport, Conn. [u.a.: Greenwood Press, 1999.