The Final Word Rests Here

China’s command-and-control chain begins and ends with the Communist Party of China

Prasun K. Sengupta

China’s President Xi Jinping is the core of the seven-member standing committee of the Politburo — that forms the innermost circle of China’s governance structure. While in theory they make decisions by consensus, Xi is the core and not, as they say, the first among equals. But it is not an absolute dictatorship as the other six are also important. The seven members are in a 25-member Politburo, making up the pinnacle of leadership power in the Communist Party of China (CPC). After all, all institutions in China, including the government, the courts and the military, report to the CPC.

Xi Jinping at the JBCC on 3 November 2017

Xi is also creating many leading groups with himself as the chief to take over decision-making power that used to be scattered among different units or people. Xi, as China’s President, is the Head of state. But the head of the government is the Premier and the No. 2 in the party, Li Keqiang. The central government’s official name is the State Council, like India’s Union cabinet, and runs all ministries, including the People’s Bank of China, the central bank. It should be noted that there are dual reporting structures in all Chinese ministries or government agencies. A minister is often the secretary of the ministry’s party committee, which means he reports to the Premier on one channel but the real reporting line is the CPC. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) answers to the CPC via the central Military Commission (CMC) under a principle known as ‘the Party commands the gun’.

China says that it is a country run according to rule by law. In some areas, such as commercial law, judgments are increasingly seen as fair and independent. But in general, ‘rule by law’ is really the ‘rule of the CPC’ by its own laws. The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, headed by a Politburo member, oversee the judiciary and prosecutors. The National People’s Congress (NPC) is a rubber-stamp agency to put CPC decisions into ‘laws’, giving the one-party dictatorship a parliamentary democracy cloak and a rule-by-law cover. It has never vetoed any proposal from the CPC. ‘Elections’ of delegates are strictly controlled by the Party, and most of the delegates are party-members or local government officials.

A ceremonial NPC gathering of about 2,300 delegates takes place every year in March. The standing committee of the NPC — which has many retired government officials as members — drafts and endorses laws in normal days. If the NPC is a kind of ornamental House of Commons, the China People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is a House of Lords with only an advisory role. Membership of the CPPCC signifies either political recognition or an arrangement for retired officials. The other supporting organs of the Politburo comprise the following:


Central Leading Group for Foreign Affairs: This offers Xi control over China’s diplomacy and its policy towards Taiwan.

Central Leading Group for Internet Security & Informatisation: This was created in early 2014 and reflected Xi’s desire to control the internet. Xi’s hallmark idea for online governance is ‘internet sovereignty’. Public reports about Xi in this title are rare.

Central National Security Commission: This is Beijing’s answer to the US National Security Council, covering intelligence, the military, diplomacy and public security as well as health, commerce and finance. Xi chaired the commission’s first meeting in April 2014. Public reports about the commission’s work have been muted ever since.

Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms: After Xi created this group at the end of 2013, it became clear that he would use it to cement his direct control over key issues. Xi had held 31 meetings of the leading group by the end of last year, addressing a wide range of issues.

Central Leading Group for National Defence & Military Reform of the Central Military Commission: Xi chaired the first group meeting in March 2014 and at the third in July 2015 he pushed a blueprint for massive military reforms.

Central Leading Group for Financial & Economic Affairs: This has been in place since at least 1992. Xi heads it and his right-hand man, Liu He, is in charge of the day-to-day operations of this group.

Central Commission for Integrated Military & Civilian Development: It is involved with creating China’s industrial-military strength.


Restructured CMC

Since his ascension to power in November 2012 as President, Xi Jinping has had a new rank, referring to him as the PLA’s ‘commander-in-chief’ of joint operations, a title last used between 1949 and 1954 by Zhu De, the revolutionary General under Mao Zedong. While a formality — Xi already chairs the CMC, giving him supreme power over the PLA — it reinforces his symbolic authority with a military rank in addition to a party one.

The CMC, with Xi as its Chairman, is the apex decision-making body of the PLA. The restructuring of the CMC is one of the biggest institutional changes that Xi has made in the governance of China. This watchdog now supervises all public institution workers, including governments and courts, as well as doctors and teachers. Functional organs of the CMC comprise the following:

General Office: Responsible for comprehensive coordination, consultation on decision-making, military legal affairs, information service, supervision and inspection.

Joint Staff Department: Responsible for combat planning, command and control, combat command support, studying and formulating military strategy and requirements, combat capability assessment, organising and guiding joint training, construction for combat readiness, and day-to-day combat readiness duties.

Political Work Department: Responsible for Party building in the military, organization work, political education, and military human resources management.

Logistics Support Department: Responsible for the planning, policy making, research, standardisation, inspection and supervision of logistic support.

Equipment Development Department: Responsible for planning, R&D, testing, authentication, procurement management, and information system build-up in equipment development.

Training & Administration Department: Responsible for organising and guiding military training, training supervision, troops administration, and management of educational institutions.

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