The Interpretation of the Central Military Commission’s Political Work Conference

Release Date : 2024-06-24

(Chang Ching, Research Fellow, Society for Strategic Studies R.O.C.)

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China held a Political Work Conference of the Central Military Commission (CMC) in Yanan from June17-19. Xi Jinping attended the conference and delivered a keynote speech on the 17th, but it was not until the 20th when the conference concluded it was made public through a news release, and the entire PLA was instructed to actively engage in a subsequent learning activities based on Xi’s speech and various resolution documents. The followings are interpretive points regarding this conference: 

Firstly, it must be noted that the Political Work Conference of CMC is not a regular gathering inside the CMC system. The previous similar conference was convened in the town of Gutian in Shanghang County, Fujian Province on December 30, 2014, in order to correspond to the 9th meeting of the 4th Army of the Chinese Workers' & Peasants' Red Army held in the same location on December 28-29, 1929. It was named the “Gutian Conference” in the history of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and it established Mao Zedong’s leadership in the 4th Red Army. There is also a reference to Xi Jinping’s chairing the 2014 PLA Political Work Conference as “New Gutian Conference.” Xi did smoothly consolidate his leadership in the PLA through the conference in 2014.  

Therefore, the CMC Political Work Conference was convened in Yanan again with a special arrangement for Xi to lead CMC members and heads of various departments and units to visit the revolutionary relics in Wanjiaping where CMC was based from August of 1937 to March of 1947, and has been regarded as an important decision-making and command base for the Party Central and CMC in the Yanan period. Through the review of history, political beliefs and intentions were implicitly conveyed.

According to Xi’s speech in the conference, it highlighted 6 key arears for new march toward advancing political military construction. They include enhancing ideological transformation with a greater sense of purpose, increasing the leadership, organization and execution of the Party, strengthening cadre development, rooting out the soil and conditions that breed corruption, boosting the spirit for taking initiatives and entrepreneurship, and restoring and promoting the fine tradition of political work. As a matter of fact, these 6 major items also reveal the internal challenges the PLA is currently facing and the crisis in military development and governance perceived by top military leaders.   

Furthermore, Xi Jinping stressed that “political military construction is the shared responsibility of the entire army, and the CMC must increase unified leadership to greatly coordinate the political work department, disciplinary inspection commission and political and legal affairs commission under it to fulfill responsibilities together, striving to create a new era for political military development.” It actually indicates the necessity to improve the existing coordination problem among the political work department, disciplinary inspection commission and political and legal affairs commission under the CMC.

From the detailed discussions about the 6 major work items in the news release after the conference, we could reaffirm that the political work department, disciplinary inspection commission and political and legal affairs commission still have significant influence and voice in the process of selecting, assessing, and even in nurturing future successive cadres and building the cadre team. In the meantime, they are also responsible for maintaining military discipline, preventing corruption, ensuring integrity, and guaranteeing benefits of officers and men by resolving grassroots issues to fulfill their important functions and responsibilities of consolidating the cohesion of military forces.

Finally, in the attendance list of the conference, there are only names of Zhang Youxia and He Weidong, members of the Politburo of the CCP and Vice Chairmen of the CMC, together with CMC members Liu Zhenli, Miao Hua, and Zhang Shengmin, with absence of name of Defense Minister Dong Jun. Obviously, it is against the earlier speculation that Dong might succeed the vacant post left by Li Shangfu as a member of the CMC, which will remain as a close attention regarding PLA’s personnel deployment.

In addition, the attendance list included members from various departments of the Military Commission, institutions directly affiliated to  the Military Commission, joint command centers, each theater command, various services of the military, units directly affiliated to the Military Commission, and significant leaders from the People's Armed Police. It explains why the news was released after the conference was concluded instead of being immediately released after Xi Jinping’s speech due to the considerations of overall security and preparedness.

Following the conclusions and directives from the conference, the intensity and scope of subsequent learning and discussion activities inside the PLA will be closely watched. During the conference, as the PLA leaders were all gathered in Yanan, the establishment of a mobile command post at the conference location to maintain communication with various theaters and military units on duty will raise interest for further analysis. The changes in vigilance and patrol preparedness along borders, coastal airspace, and maritime zone assigned to individual theater will be important topics for comparative analysis among observers of PLA’ dynamics in China’s periphery.

Translated to English by Tracy Chou