April 1, 2009 / 9:45 AM / 10 years ago

China general tells troops Party trumps state

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s military must be loyal first and foremost to the ruling Communist Party rather than the state, a senior general wrote in a piece published on Wednesday, stressing politics even as the armed forces seek to modernize.

Soldiers patrol in front of the Great Hall of the People before the opening ceremony of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing March 3, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The comments also come in a year of sensitive political anniversaries which may lead to protests and dissent, adding to government worries about unrest as bankruptcies and unemployment rise due to slowing exports amid the global financial crisis.

China’s defense spending has risen steadily in recent years as it seeks to turn a bloated and outdated force into a sleek military able to project power well beyond its borders.

This year’s military budget will grow to 480.7 billion yuan ($70.35 billion), a 14.9 percent rise on last year, prompting the Pentagon to express concern last month about the limited transparency accompanying China’s rapidly expanding capabilities.

Li Jinai, a member of the powerful Central Military Commission and head of the People’s Liberation Army’s General Political Department, wrote in April’s Party journal Seeking Truth that politics would not be sacrificed to modernization.

“Following the profound reforms our country’s economy and society have been experiencing and our continued opening up to the outside, every type of thinking and culture has surged in,” Li wrote, using the ponderous prose typical of Chinese officials.

“Inevitably, some mistaken, backward things have also seeped in to influence the military,” he added, without elaborating.

“The Chinese Communist Party is the leadership core of the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and maintaining the Party’s absolute leadership is our military’s political priority,” Li said.

“Resolutely resist ‘de-Partyising or de-politicizing the military’ or ‘nationalizing the military’ and other mistaken thoughts and influences,” he added.

Li’s article comes a few months after hundreds of dissidents, activists and former officials called for dramatic democratic reforms to the one-party state, according to a document released on the Internet.

The “‘08 Charter,” issued online with the names of 303 Chinese citizens, called for freedom of expression and association, open competitive elections and stripping away Party control of the military.

Some signatories have since been detained, and the government has shown no sign of loosening its grip.

The People’s Liberation Army was born out of the Red Army, a five-million-strong peasant army, which became the national armed force in 1949 when Communist leader Mao Zedong swept to power.

The Party has also not feared using the armed forces to keep it in power, such as in 1989 when troops bloodily suppressed pro-democracy protests around Beijing’s central Tiananmen Square.

($1=6.833 Yuan)

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jeremy Laurence

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