China’s top military officials have called on the armed forces to rally behind Xi Jinping, describing him as the “core” of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the annual session of the country’s Parliament in yet another sign that the president is emerging as the country’s strongest leader in decades.
The National People’s Congress (NPC), the rubber-stamp Parliament, is meeting for the first time since Xi was anointed the “core” at a CPC plenum last October.
Xi is the CPC general secretary, the president and chairperson of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC). Technically, China’s armed forces are under the CPC and not the government.
One of the first to speak out for Xi during the session was Fan Changlong, a vice-chairperson of the CMC.
In the usually grand way that top Chinese leaders speak, Fan said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the largest in the world, and the armed police must “implement Xi's decisions and instructions in pushing forward military building, reform and combat preparedness, and embrace the 19th CPC National Congress with military achievements”.
“The troops must resolutely safeguard the core and follow the leadership of the CPC,” Fan was quoted as saying by official Xinhua news agency at a panel discussion in the Great Hall of the People.
Xu Qiliang, another CMC vice-chairperson, said “the PLA's progress in building a world-class military is attributed to Xi's leadership”.
Fang Fenghui, chief of the joint staff department under the CMC, coined a new phrase - the “CMC chairman responsibility system” - and said this chain of command must be ensured.
Xi’s anti-corruption programme, ongoing since 2013, has rooted out corrupt PLA generals – including two vice-chairpersons of the CMC -- who were once powerful. Some experts say the high-profile anti-corruption programme is another way for Xi to consolidate power.
“Both Fan and Xu urged PLA officers to eliminate the impact of Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, two corrupt former CMC vice-chairpersons,” the report said.
Last May, the CMC dispatched 10 teams of inspectors to investigate the PLA, with reports saying this was the first time the top military command had founded a standing anti-corruption force.
The call to rally behind Xi came as China, breaking from the norm, didn’t announce its exact allocation for defence when Premier Li Keqiang delivered the government’s work report at the NPC session on Sunday.
It was left to the finance ministry to announce the following day that the defence budget for 2017 would grow at 7% to be around the 1.04 trillion RMB-mark or about $152 billion.
China will strengthen its maritime and air defence as well as border controls as part of efforts to safeguard its sovereignty and security, according to the work report.
“"The majority of the defence budget will be spent on deepening national defence and military reforms, bolstering military and civilian integration, and improving the living, training and working conditions for service personnel at grassroots levels,” a finance ministry official was quoted as saying by Xinhua.