Monday, January 25, 2021

New developments in Chinese military law and discipline at the unit level -- reform or redux?

"Our principle is that the [Communist] Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party."        Mao Zedong

The purpose of this post is to highlight the significant changes to the internal discipline system of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) at the unit level made by revisions to the Discipline Regulation that came into force May 1, 2018.

In a previous post in November, 2017 I surveyed PLA internal discipline at the unit level under the Regulations on Discipline of the Chinese PLA of 2010. Much of "who can do what to whom" remains the same under the revised Regulation - the possible punishments for officers, civilian cadres and soldiers, the punishment authority of units from the company level up to the Central Military Commission, the financial and career consequences of punishments, disciplinary probation for non-commissioned members, administrative custody, and the discipline process, including appeals, are all for the most part unchanged from the 2010 Regulation. Nevertheless, the revisions in 2018 that are highlighted below demonstrate a marked shift in Chinese thinking about the relative roles of military and Party discipline in the fostering and maintaining of military efficiency and combat capability.

First, a few of the more cosmetic changes. 

The extensive reorganization of the PLA during the period 2015-17 required revisions to the 2010 Discipline Regulation. As a result of the reorganization the seven geographic Military Area Commands across China became five Theatre Commands, and the four Headquarters Departments of the PLA (the General Staff Headquarters, and the General Political, General Logistics, and General Armaments Departments) were rolled into a substantially larger Central Military Commission. The subordinate status of the naval service, the air force and the rocket force, was raised in relation to the ground forces. These changes alone account for many of the revisions to the 2010 Discipline Regulation simply to rename the reformed organs and agencies. As well, the revisions get rid of the reference to the Chinese administrative punishment of "re-education through labour" that was abolished, at least on paper, in December of 2013. Finally, "Xi Jinping's thinking on strengthening the army" is elevated into the pantheon of previous Chinese leaders, from Mao to Hu Jintao, whose guiding principles are to inform the administration of military discipline (Art.4, formerly Art.6).

The most significant changes to Chinese military discipline effected in 2018 introduce new disciplinary offences that are derived from the internal discipline of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and further diminish the already limited role of operational commanders in the day-to-day administration of military discipline that I remarked on in the earlier post - with a concomitant rise in the role and influence of political organs and political officers.

Under Art.11 of the 2010 Regulations overall responsibility for disciplinary punishment was shared between the political organs in respect of officers and civilian cadres on the one hand and military headquarters (siling bu) in respect of the junior ranks and non-commissioned members on the other. But with the amendments in 2018 overall responsibility for the punishment of both officers and other ranks now rests with the Discipline Inspection and Supervision Department (Art.10). The DISD is a political organ established in units at the regiment level and above, all the way up to the Discipline Inspection Commission of the Central Military Commission. Each DISD reports both to a Party committee at the same level in the military hierarchy and to its immediately superior DISD.

The Discipline Regulation treats non-commissioned members (everyone except officers and conscripts) in a special way. If they refuse to perform their duty despite efforts to reform them NCM's can be put on probation for up to six months instead of proceeding immediately with charges. Then if their behaviour is not corrected discipline is instituted. Under the Discipline Regulation as it stood in 2010 the relevant leading cadres decided whether to impose probation on a non-commissioned member, and the administration of probation was the responsibility of the office of the Commanding Officer (siling jiguan). But by Art.235 the Political Work Department in each unit now takes on the responsibilities that were formerly discharged by the Commanding Officer.

In the earlier post I also described "administrative custody" (xingzheng kanguan), a measure involving short-term custody that is designed to deal with a breakdown of discipline by individuals or groups and restore order. Under the new Art.224 the approval authority for administrative custody is pushed down to the battalion level in respect of conscripts and both junior and intermediate NCM's, and military commanders at each level retain the authority they share with political commissars to order administrative custody. But by Art.227 the management of administrative custody is taken away from military commanders and given to the Political Work Department in each unit.

These changes disclose an apparent policy decision to reduce the influence of operational commanders in the administration of military discipline in units of the Chinese PLA, and to augment the already predominant role of the Party. But the clearest indication of increasing Party control of military discipline appears from several of the new disciplinary offences introduced in 2018. In the earlier post I described the various PLA discipline offences under the 2010 regulations, and stated:

"Art.82 creates the only specifically political offences to be found in the Regulation on Discipline. It is an offence to publish or otherwise disseminate writings with erroneous political opinions, or to participate in prohibited political organizations or activities."

The 2018 revisions to the Discipline Regulation go much further by introducing several distinctly political offences that are inspired by, or even copied from, Chinese Communist Party discipline. The following new military offences (as translated by the author) are derived directly from the Communist Party Discipline Regulation of 2015 (revised, 2018):

    Art.114: Those who disseminate the political line, guiding principles and policies of the Opposition, oppose the socialist system, the absolute leadership of the Party over the army, the centralized leadership or the chairman responsibility system of the Central Military Commission, and other erroneous opinions, or who publicly issue articles, speeches, manifestos, statements, etc. with erroneous political views such as "de-politicize the army" and "nationalize the army", or provide conditions to facilitate the conduct described above...shall be punished...

(derived from Art.45, 46 and 47 of the CPC Discipline Regulation, 2015)

    Art.115: Those who vilify the image of the Party, the State, or the army, disparage or slander leaders of the Party, the State or the army, or heroes and model workers, or distort or deny the history of the Party, military history, or the glorious traditions and fine work style of the army...shall be punished...

(see Art.46(3) of the CPC Discipline Regulation, 2015)

    Art.116: Those who organize or join organizations that oppose the leadership of the Party, oppose the socialist system, or are hostile to the government, as well as political organizations prohibited by the State or the army such as superstitious and evil cults, or make contact with illegal organizations or illegal publications in society or someone with political problems...shall be punished...

(from Art.49 and 50 of the CPC Discipline Regulation, 2015)

The 2018 revisions to military discipline regulations also expand the range of disciplinary offences to include some kinds of immoral acts that originated in Party discipline proscriptions. Thus, the new offence in

    Art.151: Those who engage in power for sex transactions or give property or money for sex transactions...shall be punished...

is taken verbatim from the CPC Discipline Regulation, 2015, Art.103.

An earlier CPC Discipline Regulation in 2004 proscribed some other immoral acts such as bigamy, adultery (especially involving a spouse of a PLA member in active service), abuse of authority in order to have a sexual relationship, prostitution and drug use. These were "Serious Violations of Socialist Morality" or "Harmful to Social Management Order" under Art.150, 151, 156 and 160. By Art.176 the 2004 CPC Discipline Regulation gave the Central Military Commission the authority to formulate supplementary regulations for the PLA "on the basis of these [Party] regulations", and the CMC took up the invitation the following year with the making of "Supplementary Provisions on the Army's Implementation of the Regulation of the Communist Party of China on Disciplinary Actions" of 2005. Under this instrument the CMC created several offences that could be punished by Party discipline such as warnings, loss of Party position, Party probation, or expulsion from the Party. Most of the offences under the Supplementary Provisions mirror military disciplinary offences found in the military Discipline Regulation, but a small number have a political nature. Art.7 of the Supplementary Provisions is very similar to another new political offence found in Art.117 of the revised military Discipline Regulation:

    Art.117: Those who organize or participate in parades, demonstrations or sit-ins, as well as collective petitions, superstitions and other activities prohibited by the army...shall be punished...

Bigamy and adultery are likely punishable as "improper sexual behaviour" contrary to Art.99 of the 2010 Discipline Regulation (that became Art.165 in 2018), but other Party proscriptions from 2004 intended to address various kinds of immorality did not find their way into either the CMC Supplementary Provisions of 2005 or the 2010 Discipline Regulation. Nevertheless, with the revisions of 2018 there are now several new military disciplinary offences that are inspired by the Party Discipline Regulation from 2004 - sexual harassment (Art.165), frequenting prostitutes or engaging in prostitution (Art.166), and taking drugs (Art.166).

Transplanting Party discipline offences into the revised military Discipline Regulation is significant. Party membership is widespread in the PLA, and almost universal among the officer corps - and those who violate Party discipline are liable to a range of punishments up to and including expulsion from the Party. But Party membership is voluntary. Under the 2018 revisions to military discipline the liability for several offences against Party discipline that used to be limited to those PLA members who were also Party members now extends to every member of the Chinese PLA, including conscripts, whether they are members of the Party or not. And military sanctions, including a disciplinary discharge from military service, can be imposed for a much wider range of purely political activities.

Art.251 of the revised PLA Discipline Regulation adds the following new language to what was Art.170 in the 2010 version:

"The chief officers in charge at all levels are the persons primarily responsible for maintaining discipline and discipline inspection, and bear the corresponding leadership responsibilities."

The "chief officers in charge" (zhengzhi shouzhang) of units of the PLA consists of the operational and political co-commanders of the unit and their deputies together with the heads of the unit logistics and armaments departments. Yet it is difficult to see how anyone but political officers can discharge the obligations imposed by Art.251 without the necessary tools. Only political officers have decision-making authority with respect to opening an investigation of a disciplinary offence, making a finding of responsibility, and deciding appropriate punishment. Only political officers have a role in the administration of probation for NCM's and the management of administrative custody. Significantly, "punishment responsibility" as a whole, including enforcement of the new political offences, rests squarely with political officers of the Discipline Inspection and Supervision Departments with no role for operational commanders apart from ensuring (under Art.189, formerly Art.135) that punishment decisions made by the political organs are implemented.

The "Red vs. Expert" debate has kept Chinese scholars and some Western commentators busy since Mao first referred to this "contradiction" in the late 1950's. In the military context the issue refers to the tension between expert military operators in the General Staff, General Logistics and General Armaments career streams and their counterparts, the political officers, who are distinctively badged as such and typically follow a different career track. Control and influence in the PLA has swung back and forth between the two groups ever since the Gutian conference when Mao's faction succeeded in having political officers installed in units of the fledgling Workers' and Peasants' Red Army down to the company level. During periods of threatened or actual hostilities the operators seem to regain more influence at the expense of the Party apparatus. But for the present, with the revisions to the PLA Discipline Regulation in 2018, the Party commands the gun, arguably to a greater extent that at any other time in its history.

1 comment:

  1. Peter's post is timely. The PLA's restructure of 2015 replaced its military-region system with war-theater system and put an end of the dominance of PLA's ground-force. It brought to the PLA significant changes to its internal discipline system that was based military-region system. It also brought to light two issues of sex transactions and vilification of the image of the party, the army and the heroes. While the former is completely new, the latter could be explained as a sign of the extent and impacts of the vilification. The PLA was built on the Chinese Communists’ agrarian revolution and is still in theory an army of revolution. It is a tripartite army of the party network, the commissar system and the chain of military command. It was modeled on the Red Army that Leon Trotsky built. As the revolution is over seventies year ago, some heroes in the revolution heritage became topics of jokes that were popular in banquets. I doubt whether a middle-ranked PLA officer can be promoted if he/she is not good at telling-jokes. It is a time to hold tongues. It is also doubtful whether the PLA’s new regulation on its internal discipline will work well due to the coercion (even terror) out of its revolution is no longer available.


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