Central Military Commission
|The Central Military Commission compound, also known as August 1st Mansion, in Beijing (Photo: Duncan Yum)
The Central Military Commission (CMC) is the leading military organ and the supreme military command and decision-making body, through which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leads the country’s armed force – the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the People’s Armed Police (PAP), and military and reserve forces. The commission is known as the “Chinese Communist Party Central Military Commission (中国共产党中央军事委员会)” in the Party system, and the “State Central Military Commission (国家军事委员会)” in the government system. The two commissions are one identical institution with two names (一套机构、两块牌子), in order to fit in both state government and Party systems.
The CCP dates its origin back to the “Central Military Department” formed in June 1928 as the highest military command organ for the Chinese Red Army. Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in October 1949, the People’s Revolution Military Commission of the Central People’s Government (中央人民政府人民革命军事委员) was formed as the leading military organ for the country’s armed forces. In 1954, the first PRC Constitution created the National Defence Commission (国防委员会) and Defence Minister in the State government as its military organs. At the same time, the People’s Revolution Military Commission was abolished and replaced by the CMC re-created within the Party system.
The fourth PRC Constitution passed in December 1982 created a new body – the State CMC – as the country’s decision-making body in military affairs. The state is headed by the Chairman, who is the commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces. In practice, the State CMC is exactly identical to the Party CMC in membership, making the CMC a leading military organ for both the Party and state government.
The CMC is headed by a Chairman, who answers to the CCP’s Central Committee in the Party system and to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in the state government system. Within the Party system, the CMC Chairman is elected during the Party Congress, which is held every five years. In the government system, the CMC Chairman is elected during the National People’s Congress, also held every five years. The position of the CMC Chairman has always held by the Party and State supreme leader, from Mao Zedong, Hua Guofeng, Deng Xiaoping, to Jiang Zemin. The current Chairman for both CMCs is the Party Secretary-General and PRC President Hu Jintao.
The CMC normally has 2~3 Vice Chairmen, who are uniformed officers actually in charge of the running of the CMC. There is normally a split responsibility between these Vice Chairmen, e.g. operations and training, political, logistics, and equipment and modernisation. In its history, the CMC also had the ‘First Vice Chairman’ (第一副主席) and/or ‘Executive Vice Chairman’ (常务副主席). The latter functioned as the de facto head in the daily running of the CMC. Additionally, one of the Vice Chairmen normally serves concurrently as the Defence Minister in the State government.
During the Jiang Zemin-era, the Party and government’s No.2 leader Hu Jintao was also concurrently the First Vice Chairman of the CMC. This was very much symbolic since Hu was not directly involved in military affairs then. After Hu assumed power in 2004, no civilian official has been appointed as the Vice Chairman of the CMC.
Currently there are two Vice Chairman in the CMC: General Guo Boxiong and General Xu Caihou. The current Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie is only a CMC member, not a Vice Chairman.
Composition of the members of the CMC has varied significantly in the past, depending on the political climate and power balance. In early years, the CMC was a large organ that included a wide variety of senior military commanders and leaders. From 1949 to 1954, it had no fewer than 28 members, shrinking slightly to 22 between 1954 and 1966, before ballooning to 52 members during the 1969~1977 period, and 64 during the 1977~1982 period. In fact, a standing committee (军委常委) had to be created as an exclusive ‘inner cabinet’ to make important decisions.
The membership of the CMC shrunk considerably after Deng Xiaoping’s regaining of authority over the military in 1982, and there has been no standing committee since then. CMC members normally include the heads (and some of the deputies) of the four general departments of the PLA. Up until 1992, the CMC also had a Secretary-General (军委秘书长) a Deputy Secretary-General responsible for the daily running of the commission, but the position has been abolished since then. After Hu took over the position as the CMC Chairman, the commanders of the Navy, Air Force, and Second Artillery Corps also entered the CMC, a move aimed to elevate the status of these service branches.
Current members of the CMC include:
- General LIANG Guanglie (梁光烈) – Defence Minister
- General CHEN Bingde (陈炳德) – Chief of the General Staff
- General LI Jinai (李继耐) – Director of the General Political Department
- General LIAO Xilong (廖锡龙) –Director of the General Logistics Department
- General CHANG Wanquan (常万全) – Director of the General Equipment Department
- General JING Zhiyuan (靖志远) – Commander of the Second Artillery Corps
- Admiral WU Shengli (吴胜利) – Commander of the PLA Navy
- Air Force General XU Qiliang (许其亮) – Commander of the PLA Air Force
General Office (办公厅) – The General Office is the nerve centre of the CMC, responsible for all daily functions. It processes all documents and communications, coordinating meetings, and conveys orders and directives to other subordinate organs. Ii is headed by a Director and several Deputy Directors, most of which are serving as secretaries (personal assistants) to the CMC Chairman and Vice Chairmen. Its subordinate organs may include Chairman Office, Secretary Bureau, Foreign Affair Office, etc.
Legal Affair Bureau (法制局) – Established in 1988, this bureau is the leading legal organ, through which the CMC oversees all aspects of legal affairs within the armed forces. It is responsible for drafting various military-related laws and regulations, and working with the civilian legal organisations in implementing laws within the armed forces.
Arms Trading Office (军品贸易办公室) – Responsible for arms imports and exports policies and decision-making.
Audit Agency (审计署) – The functions of this agency is actually carried out by the Audit Agency of the General Logistics Department.
Discipline Inspection Commission (纪律检查委员会) – As part of the Party system, the Discipline Inspection Commission is responsible for monitoring activities of the Party organisations and Party members within the military to ensure that Party discipline is maintained.
Additionally, the CMC directly manages the National Defence University, Academy of Military Science, National University of Defence Technology, PLA Hong Kong Garrison, and PLA Macau Garrison.