The revised legislation came into force on January 1 and gives the President and his Central Military Commission new powers to deploy troops to protect the CCP.
by Massimo Introvigne
On January 1, 2021, an amended National Defense Law came into force in China. Its text is public. The law was enacted on December 26, 2020, and followed a Military Ideological and Political Education Work Conference, which was held in Beijing from December 3 to 4 under the presidency of Xi Jinping.
Article 4 of the amended law implicitly alludes to the conference, and to the promotion there of “Xi Jinping Thought on Strengthening the Army” (of course, there is a Xi Jinping Thought on almost everything). The article states that, “National defense activities adhere to the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory,” and “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, implement Xi Jinping Thought on Strengthening the Army.” This may seem merely rhetoric, but is in fact a key to the new law.
The changes in the National Defense Law are of two kinds, organizational and substantial. Organizationally, while the old 1997 law, amended in 2009, gave the general power to deploy troops to the State Council, China’s Cabinet, the new statutes transfer part of this authority to the Central Military Commission, whose members are military commanders and whose president is Xi Jinping’s itself. The general principle, as stated in Article 21 (which corresponds to Article 19 of the 1997 law), remains that, “The armed forces of the People’s Republic of China are under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Some can say that Xi Jinping controls everything at any rate, but the transfer of a portion of the authority to deploy troops from a civilian to a military body has more than symbolic significance. It has been widely interpreted as a signal that China is ready to move quickly and decisively through its 2-million-strong People’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Even more important is the substantial concept of Article 22, giving a broad scope to the deployment of PLA troops. They can be used “to defend national sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity, to safeguard the country’s overseas interests, and to promote world peace and development.” Also, the army shall intervene to “handle sudden incidents putting the security of society in danger, and prevent and handle terrorist activities.”
The reference to “territorial integrity” has caused obvious concerns in Taiwan and Hong Kong, which the CCP regards as parts of China. The “security of society” and “prevention of terrorist activities” would justify draconian military interventions in places such as Tibet and Xinjiang, and the nice-sounding “promotion of world peace and development” means that the PLA may intervene virtually everywhere “to safeguard the country’s overseas interests.” Some general concepts already existed in the 1997 law, but the wording is now broader, and international concern is justified.