Why Chinese emperor seems so insecure The First Post 25 Sep 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar



Why Chinese emperor seems so insecure The First Post 25 Sep 2023

          In July 1979, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain assembled about 100 members of his Baathist party in a room. He then announced a plot against him and one by one, members of his party, accused of plotting, were led out. Those who remained, immediately swore loyalty to Saddam. They were then given weapons and instructed to kill those accused of treason. This made them complicit to murder and ensured that none would ever contemplate challenging his power. He remained firmly in his chair until he was executed in 2003.

          Stalin from 1936-38 launched a brutal political campaign to eliminate dissenting members of the communist party and anyone else he considered a threat. It is estimated that around 75,000 were executed and over a million sent to forced labour camps. This sealed his power. Similar actions were undertaken by Hitler to eliminate any threat against it.

Equally infamous was the ‘cultural revolution’ launched by Chinese strongman Mao Zedong. The purge ended with the death of Mao in September 1976. In this ten-year period the revolution claimed between 500,000 to two million lives, true figures never being available.

Dictators like Stalin, Saddam, Mao and Hitler always feared being overthrown and thus anyone, even perceived as a threat, had to be removed. Their survival was dependent on internal intelligence, monitoring possible challengers and creating an aura of fear amongst the population. Midnight knocks have always been a favourite tactic of ensuring subjugation and control.

          More recently, Kim Jong Un, who replaced his father as the absolute monarch of North Korea in Dec 2011, launched his purge of supposed detractors a few months later. Within two years over 50% of his senior party members were removed, many eliminated. Amongst them was his uncle and former mentor who was mercilessly killed. The cruelty created such fear that none was willing to question him.

In this day of social media conducting mass purges are no longer feasible. Dictators have to invent innovative methods to remove challengers. The best option is to give harsh sentences for perceived corruption. It is easier in closed societies than open ones. 

Putin in Russia has removed all challengers to his power by jailing them under various false pretexts. Currently, there is none in Russia to stand against him whenever elections are held. While Russia claims to be a democracy, Putin remains the undisputed king. Ukraine is headed the same way, with Zelensky following Putin by jailing all his detractors, adopting the war as an excuse.

          This is what is also being witnessed in China in the past few months. In Jun, the deputy commander of the PLA rocket force, Wu Guohua, died under mysterious circumstances, which was subsequently declared as cerebral haemorrhage. The inside story is state authorised murder. The rocket force is responsible for handling China’s tactical and strategic missiles, including nuclear.

In end Jun, the commander of the rocket force, Lieutenant General Li Yuchao, went missing from official engagements. It was subsequently learnt that he had been arrested and under investigation for alleged corruption. China watchers mention that the list of accusations include Li Yuchao’s son, studying in the US, leaking state secrets for financial gains.

Around the same time, the newly appointed foreign minister, Qin Gang, a blue-eyed boy of Xi Jinping and former ambassador to the US as also the man behind China’s wolf warrior diplomacy, went off the radar. The Chinese authorities either claimed he was unwell or ignored questions on his absence. It is rumoured that he is linked to the turbulence in the rocket force and also under investigation. He has not been seen in public since.    

Xi had brought the PLA under the CCP and him directly once he had established himself. He purged the leadership of those loyal to his predecessors.     

Many other senior officials of the PLA, including the former defence minister and ex-commander of the rocket force, Wei Fenghe, are under investigation for corruption. While the truth behind the removal of all linked to the PLA rocket force may never be known, there is talk of a possible revolt against the CCP leadership from within the PLA being spearheaded by the rocket force.

In latest inputs from China, the current defence minister, Li Shangfu, a former army general with ties to military space enterprises, has been missing for over two weeks. His absence came to light when China cancelled his visit to Vietnam as also a meeting with the Singaporean naval chief. It is reported that he too is under house arrest and being investigated. Reports mention of at least 20 generals being under secret police custody and investigated for multiple offenses.

In October 2022, former Chinese president, Hu Jintao, was physically lifted from his chair and escorted out from the communist party meeting which endorsed Xi’s third term. He was likely to raise objections on the grant of a third term to Xi. The live display of the incident on television was intended to send a firm message of Xi’s undisputed grip of the country.

The purge of the top leadership, only limited details being available, indicates a growing sense of dissatisfaction within China as also increasing insecurity and paranoia within Xi. Such is the fear within the Chinese leadership that it is demanding all its citizens to help catch spies. Beijing believes that foreign intelligence agencies have infiltrated multinationals, social media and the universities bent on weakening the hold of the communist party.

It is possible that the Wagner revolt of Jun this year added to concerns of Xi as majority of those arrested and currently under investigation were post the Wagner uprising. If it could happen in Russia, it could also happen in China and the PLA could be the lead.

This rising fear has led to the Chinese leadership devoting its attention to national security rather than on rebuilding the economy. This basically implies protecting the power of the CCP and Xi Jinping. Xi, who on being elected for his third term, built his team around sycophants and yes-men. Currently, many of them are being purged and a new team created. It is possibly the ongoing sequence of arrests and suppression of a possible revolt which kept Xi away from the G20.

Either Xi Jinping judged wrong or dissatisfaction is increasing within China against mismanagement of the economy and suppression of the populace under him. For an emperor the worst fear is removal by revolt and subsequent elimination. How long will he keep suppressing dissent is to be seen. Insecurity with the military leadership would imply promoting those who are loyal as against those who are professional, a sure signal for failure in operations.