Propaganda as Policy? Explaining the PLA’s “Hawkish Faction” (Part Two)

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Here is Part 2 on the PLA hawkish faction from China Brief, with added links to sources, and a couple of graphs from the utterly awesome Baidu Index (big hat tip to Kaiser Kuo). 

I’d also like to add my thanks to Xuan Cheng, John Garnaut, James Barker, Mark Stokes and Taylor Fravel for discussions and tips on this topic. They don’t necessarily agree with the content of the article.

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Propaganda as Policy? Explaining the PLA’s “Hawkish Faction” (Part Two)

Publication: China Brief Volume: 13 Issue: 16

August 9, 2013

By: Andrew Chubb

Rise of the hawks: searches for "China hawkish faction" by logged-in Baidu users since 2008. I'm requesting further info from Baidu regarding the extremely low pre-2010 numbers. One point that can be made with confidence is that user interest in the "Chinese hawkish faction" peaked during the Scarborough Shoal and (especially) Diaoyu Islands crises.

Rise of the hawks: searches for “China hawkish faction” by logged-in Baidu users since 2008. I’m requesting further info from Baidu regarding the extremely low pre-2010 numbers. One point that can be made with confidence is that user interest in the “Chinese hawkish faction” peaked during the Scarborough Shoal and (especially) Diaoyu Islands crises.

If outspoken Chinese military officers are, as Part One suggested, neither irrelevant loudmouths, nor factional warriors, nor yet the voice of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on foreign policy, and are instead experts in the PLA-CCP propaganda system, then what might explain the bad publicity they often generate for China? This article explores how the activities of China’s military hawks may contribute to the regime’s domestic and international goals. On a general level, the very appearance of a hawkish faction—the “opera” that Luo Yuan has described—serves the domestic purposes of promoting national unity (Global Times, May 4). By amplifying threat awareness and countering perceived Western plots to permeate the psyche of the Chinese populace and army, the “hawks” direct public dissatisfaction with the policy status quo away from the system as a whole. 

In specific crises, such as the standoff at Scarborough Shoal last year or in the wake of the Diaoyu Islands purchase, hard-line remarks from uniformed commentators serve to rally domestic public opinion behind the prospect of military action, instil confidence in the PLA’s willingness to fight over the issue and deter China’s adversary. By amplifying the possibility of otherwise irrational Chinese military action and inevitable escalation should Beijing’s actions be interfered with, they have contributed to a thus-far successful effort to convince the Philippines and Japan to accept the new status quo around Scarborough Shoal and the Diaoyu Islands.

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Propaganda, Not Policy: Explaining the PLA’s “Hawkish Faction” (Part One)

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Latest Jamestown China Brief piece, with links to sources:

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Propaganda, Not Policy: Explaining the PLA’s “Hawkish Faction” (Part One)

 By Andrew Chubb

The regular appearance in the Chinese media of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) figures calling for aggressive foreign policy causes controversy and confusion among foreign observers. The most sensational remarks usually are made by academics at PLA institutions. Foreign media routinely pick up sensational quotes from these military officers—such as Major General Luo Yuan’s repeated suggestion for declaring the Diaoyu Islands a Chinese military target range or Rear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong’s recent call for a blockade of Philippine outposts in the Spratly Islands (Beijing TV/Huanqiu Wang, May 27)—and attribute them to senior military leaders, as their ranks seem to suggest (New York Times, August 20, 2012; TIME, Februrary 20; Tea Leaf Nation, February 25; South China Morning Post, March 6; Reuters, March 17). Operational commanders, however, seldom comment in public on policy issues. Prominent foreign policy analyst Wang Jisi has publicly complained about “reckless statements, made with no official authorization” which had “created a great deal of confusion” (Asian Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2012). In April, recently-retired deputy military region commander Wang Hongguang wrote military pundits had “misled the audience” and caused “interference with our high-level policy decision-making and deployments” (Global Times, April 20). This two-part series assesses who these outspoken PLA officers represent and the implications of their hawkish statements through an evaluation of their backgrounds, affiliations and statements on their work.

Debate about belligerent public remarks from military personnel often surrounds the extent to which they might represent the voice of hawkish PLA constituencies, pressuring the leadership to adopt more aggressive policies. Some analysts tend to dismiss such bluster as largely irrelevant on the basis that military media pundits have no operational military authority, despite their high rank. Others, however, emphasize how continued outspokenness by military figures presupposes high-level party or military support, and that they thus give voice to behind-the-scenes political struggles. A third view proposes that the hawks are the voice of the PLA as an institution, pushing the military’s policy preferences [1]. Analysis of scattered biographical information on the most prominent hawkish PLA media commentators, plus comments regarding their own work, suggests each perspective is partially right. None is a general in a conventional military sense, yet they are far from irrelevant. Their backgrounds, affiliations and positions, however, indicate their role probably has more to do with the regime’s domestic and international propaganda work objectives than political debates.

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Luo Yuan’s US-style military report, and difficulties for Dai Xu

Press conference launching China Strategy Culture Promotion Association's 中国战略文化促进会  2011 reports on US and Japanese military developments

Press conference launching China Strategy Culture Promotion Association’s 中国战略文化促进会 2011 reports on US and Japanese military developments

Here is an actual weblog post — a log of what one reads on the internet — rather than the usual rambling speculative essay.

Luo Yuan’s think tank, the “China Strategy Culture Promotion Association” (中国战略文化促进会), yesterday released separate reports on the “military power of the US and Japan”.

Curiously, given it’s supposedly an non-governmental think tank (民间智库), the Global Times quoted China Foreign Affairs University’s Su Hao calling the reports “strong and timely responses to the inaccurate remarks in the US annual report on China’s military and the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s recent white paper” (emphasis added).

The report has been given lots of coverage in the Chinese-language media. Chinese radio bulletins yesterday were reporting on the report before it was even released.

The radio also mentioned that this year’s reports will be issued in English. I hope this is true, because it looks to be packed with highlights:

The reports pointed out that neither the US nor Japan had enough transparency regarding their military budgets.

[...]

The report concluded that Japan has strengthened its defense in its southwest islands and was preparing to take over the Diaoyu Islands by force in the future and intervening in any potential conflict in the Taiwan Straits.

Luo Yuan himself was quoted:

“We need to prepare for the worst [situation],” Luo said, adding that China should be well equipped.

This is the second year the think tank has released these reports. Copies of last year’s report carried the term “public version 民间版” on the cover, as pictured at the top, which seems to suggest there also exists some kind of restricted-circulation government version. If so, the China Strategy Culture Promotion Association looks like a good analogue of Luo Yuan’s own roles, at the intersection of military intelligence gathering, public diplomacy, propaganda work, and Taiwan affairs.

2011

2011 U.S. Military Power Assessment and 2011 Japan Military Power Assessment reports

Note the watermark on the above pictures, which are taken from the think tank’s own website here. Chinataiwan.org is a website of the PRC State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, which Luo Yuan’s father Luo Qingchang directed in the 1970s and early 1980s.

* * *

I stumbled across a couple of rather astonishing little Dai Xu tidbits a couple of weeks back.

1.) According to China Intellectual Property News, Dai Xu sued a Hong Kong magazine Wide Angle Lens《广角镜》 and others including a Beijing airport newsagent, for lifting 52% of the 2011 Long Tao article calling for a South China Sea war. He demanded withdrawal of the magazine from circulation, apologies, compensation of ¥200,000. Judgement was handed down in January this year. He was awarded……wait for it…….¥240.

Among other things, i guess this shows Colonel Dai is not that well-connected.

2.) A sharp-witted blogger has outed Dai Xu for writing a preface, under his penname “Long Tao”, to his own chapters, in a book edited by him. Of one Dai Xu chapter, “Long Tao” asserts that “this piece can be called the modern-day Strategies of the Warring States 《战国策》” and that “Dai Xu has continued his consistent style of speaking the truth . . . on national strategy, Dai Xu’s viewpoint is deafeningly clear, and manifestly superior”. In the other self-preface, Long Tao says the following article “will receive the support of the majority of Chinese people and Chinese military personnel . . . an incomparably correct position . . . nobody has ever explained important theoretical problems so clearly, correctly, reasonably and vividly”.

Preface to brilliant Dai Xu chapter, written by Dai Xu

Preface to brilliant Dai Xu chapter, written by Dai Xu

Here we see essentially the same self-wumao tactic as Luo Yuan got caught employing on weibo a few months back. A post appeared on Luo’s weibo account, praising Luo Yuan’s superb analysis of the North Korean problem, and declaring him “the most popular military commentator on television”.

The Major General claimed he claimed his account had been hacked, but Kai-fu Lee certainly wasn’t buying it. He did, however, offer Luo some expert advice: “Although you can use different browsers to operate multiple weibo accounts, the premise is that each browser must be logged into a different account!”

Luo Yuan's enthusiastic weibo post in praise of...Luo Yuan

Luo Yuan’s enthusiastic weibo post in praise of…Luo Yuan. Screenshots from Kai-fu Lee’s weibo 


A “strategic communication” with India, via Luo Yuan?

Luo Yuan meets the press, July 4, 2013 - photo by Ananth Krishnan

Luo Yuan meets the press, July 4, 2013 – photo by Ananth Krishnan

To those people who subscribe to this blog via email, thankyou and i’m sorry — you guys always miss out on various additions and clarifications (e.g. headings, signpost & summary sentences) to the shoddy initial versions i post. If you’re interested in the topics but find my chaotic writing confusing, i’d always recommend waiting a few hours and then viewing via the web, rather than email.

If it wasn’t clear, the point of yesterday’s typically unwieldy post was actually quite simple: Luo Yuan, and the other “hawks”, are probably in the game of military political work, rather than policy competition.

With impeccable timing, Luo Yuan has provided a lovely example to illustrate this. [UPDATE JULY 8: Not really an example at all, it turns out.]

On Thursday, only hours before AK Antony arrived in Beijing for the first visit by an Indian Defense Minister for seven years, Luo held a press briefing and told India to be “very cautious in what it does and what it says.” [UPDATE: The briefing was not about India, and Luo only commented on India when asked by a journalist to do so. I have been told Luo made no attempt to raise the topic of India. Thus, the working hypothesis this piece was written under -- that this was a carefully timed piece of strategic communication aimed at India -- is invalid. It was almost certainly just a coincidence that Luo commented on India just before the Defense Minister's visit. However, this doesn't diminish the likelihood that Luo Yuan is in the business of political communication, only that this particular action was targeted at India.]

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Major-General Luo Yuan’s “real and fake” dove-hawk opera

Luo Yuan, which part will you sing?

Luo Yuan, which part will you sing?

As usual, I should be doing other things, but i couldn’t let this pass into the shadows: a chat session between Major-General (Retd) Luo Yuan and netizens from Huanqiu Wang  (Global Times Website) in which Luo says the PRC’s debates between hawkish and dovish factions are “mixture of truth and deceit, real and fake”.

An English-language summary of the exchange was published on Chinascope in May, but that excluded many interesting parts, including, crucially, the ending. The more i read through the original, in fact, the more it seemed that just about everything in the article was pertinent.

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Luo Yuan’s hopes for the masses

It starts almost exactly where i left off in this previous piece, discussing the strong market appeal of the PLA’s “hawkish” academic corps. The Huanqiu transcript claims to be a “actual record” of the chat, though the perfect, formal language the netizens allegedly used indicates that they were carefully vetted and edited. With questions prefaced by lines like, “Our country is currently situated in a period of complicated external circumstances,” we might legitimately wonder whether there were any netizens involved in the production of the questions at all.

Huanqiu netizen: China has always practiced peaceful coexistence, but in recent years our country has faced challenges everywhere in upholding territorial sovereignty. A significant number of the Chinese masses appeal for the coming of a “Flying General” from the poem line, “But when the Flying General is looking after the Dragon City / No barbarian horseman may cross the Yin Mountains.“[1] May I please ask, General Luo, how do you view these kinds of appeals?

“Flying General” refers to Li Guang 李广, the early Han Dynasty commander known for striking terror into the hearts of the Xiongnu raiders to the northwest. This raises a basic tension in China’s contemporary nationalist identity, between peaceful coexistence and merciless vengefulness and exclusion. Chairman Mao, of course, explained this away with his famous 1939 dictum, “If others do not assault me, I will not assault them; if others assault me, I will certainly assault them,” (人不犯我我不犯人,人若犯我我必犯人). Perhaps not surprisingly, that phrase became a slogan for destroying all kinds of real and fabricated enemies during Mao’s reign.

So, how does Luo Yuan view the masses’ alleged desire for a messianic “Flying General” figure to fight those fearsome Filipino raiders?

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Lieutenant-General Wang Hongguang blasts PLA pundits’ “interference” in decisions and deployments

Increase vigilance

Increase vigilance: the reasonable conclusion of PLA pundits like Dai Xu?

[I spent hours on this post, then WordPress kindly lost it without a trace, hence this is a bit out-of-date, sorry]

The April 20 edition of the Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times) carried an article by recently-retired PLA Lieutenant-General Wang Hongguang, directly criticizing the Chinese media’s hawkish military commentators. 

The article is brief — indeed so brief that the obligatory preface declaring support for the pundits’ patriotic mission does not even run to a full sentence:

In recent years, military affairs experts have frequently appeared on TV and in all kinds of publications, with the positive effect of strengthening the masses’ national defense awareness and arousing patriotism, but it cannot be denied that some have said off-key things, things that have misled the audience and been irresponsible.

Lt-Gen Wang, who now serves as Vice President of the PLA’s Academy of Military Science, made it quite clear that by “military affairs experts” he was referring to fellow PLA academics, particularly Zhang Zhaozhong, Luo Yuan, and of course Dai Xu.

It’s unusual to hear a PLA academic criticize his comrades in public; even more so for someone of such high rank. But most remarkable was Lt-Gen Wang’s claim that PLA academics’ war talk is “interfering” with the CCP-PLA leadership’s decision-making, citing the specific example of Sino-Japanese relations:

Some experts have inappropriately made comparisons of China and Japan’s military strength, claiming “China and Japan will inevitably go to war”, and that this “would not significantly affect our period of strategic opportunity”, [thus] inciting public sentiment and causing some interference with our high-level policy decision-making and deployments.

Wang Hongguang is in a position to know. Until recently he was Deputy Commander of the PLA’s Nanjing Military Region.

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First Luo Yuan, now Liu Yuan: from one “public opinion incident” to another

Liu Yuan

Liu Yuan giving his March 14 interview

...not to be confused with Luo Yuan

Luo Yuan

Over the past few weeks i’ve counted five instances of PLA General Liu Yuan publicly warning against military conflict with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands. If this puzzled the SCMP’s seasoned reporters, who described Liu as “hawkish” in a story quoting him saying, “The friendship between people in China and Japan is everlasting,” it was positively shocking for many of the Chinese internet’s e-nationalists. [1]

Actual serving General Liu Yuan is not to be confused with retired academic “Major-General” Luo Yuan (i’ll continue to put his rank in quotes to distinguish them), who was dumped from the CPPCC this month for being “too outspoken”.

That rationale was a bit ironic given he too has been oddly conciliatory on the Diaoyu issue of late. Not only did “Major-General” Luo categorically refute a Japanese media report that he had called for Tokyo to be bombed, he also seemed to deny he had ever suggested establishing a military presence on Diaoyu. And in one of his earliest Weibos, Luo raised a historical episode that seemed to imply that the US could secretly be trying to fool China into giving it a rationale for military intervention over Diaoyu:

In 1990, as Iraq massed military forces on the Kuwait border, the US ambassador told Saddam, “We do not take a position.” On July 31, US Assistant Secretary of State affirmed that “there is no duty compelling us to use our military”. As a result Iraq invaded Kuwait, under the belief that the US would not intervene, whereupon the US gained a great number of rationales for sending troops. From this we can see, the US wields not only high technology, but also strategic deception.

1990年,伊拉克在科威特边境集结军队时,美大使向萨达姆表示,“不持立场”,7月31日美助理国务卿在众院听证会上肯定“没有义务促使我们使用我们的军队”,结果,伊拉克在确信美不会介入的情况下,入侵科威特,于是,美获得了大量出兵的理由。由此可见,海湾战争,美国不仅玩的是高技术,还玩战略误导

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“There are cocoons growing in my ears!”: Hong Lei and Huang Shanchun’s responses to warmongering ‘netizens’

Guangdong Military Region commissar Huang Shanchun 黄善春 meets “netizens”, May 14, 2012

Two weeks ago, with the state-inspired media wave receding, a timely fishing ban arriving to diffuse tensions, and China’s economic leverage and superior law-enforcement capabilities combining to put it on top in the dispute over Scarborough Shoal, the Foreign Ministry had a message for the world: the PRC authorities will continue to ignore public opinion on the South China Sea.

Only problem was, the way the message was delivered probably made it clearer, and definitely louder, for domestic audiences than foreign.

On Tuesday May 15, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spokesman Hong Lei “responded” 回应 to some of the online public advocacy of a military solution to the Huangyan Island issue. The Ministry’s website documents the following exchange [EN|ZH]:

Journalist: Some netizens have advocated the use of military means to resolve the Huangyan Island issue. What is your response to this?

Hong Lei: The Chinese government’s determination to uphold territorial sovereignty over Huangyan Island is firm. At the same time, we are working to resolve the current situation over Huangyan Island via diplomatic consultation.

Hong didn’t actually address the issue of the “netizens’” advocacy of war at all — his answer just restated the official Chinese position that the PRC is committed to resolving the crisis through diplomacy. In fact, so little did Hong Lei say, and so widespread the reporting of it, it might even be (over-)interpreted as an application of the Taoist doctrine of “acting without acting” 为无为.

After all, it was the journalist’s question, rather than the spokesman’s answer, that created the media story.

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The China Energy Fund Committee: mouthpiece of the Ye Jianying clan?

China Energy Fund Committee strategic analyst Dai Xu (戴旭)

After making waves last year with its call for war in the South China Sea, the shadowy China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC, 中国能源基金委员会) is back, going head-to-head once again with former PRC ambassador to the UN, Wu Jianmin, over the issue of “narrow-minded nationalism” in China. This time, however, it seems to have provided an answer to the riddle of last year’s “Long Tao” articles, and perhaps even the true nature of their significance.

On May 3, it appears (i can’t access the digital version), the Huanqiu Shibao ran side-by-side pieces by Wu and the CEFC’s “strategic analyst” Dai Xu, one titled ‘Beware narrow-minded nationalism’, the other ‘There is no narrow-minded nationalism in China’.

The piece by Wu, one of the more prominent doves of PRC foreign affairs discourse, argued:

As recent articles have pointed out, China is now in its third period of ‘letting 100 schools of thought contend’ (百家争鸣). In this process of contention, one thing to be wary of is that narrow-minded nationalism is now raising its head.

This narrow-minded nationalism, according to Wu, has three main manifestations: 1.) the belief that China is being victimised through international cooperation;  2.) challenging Deng Xiaoping’s “shelve differences and jointly develop” approach, advocating military action instead; and 3.) blind rejection of multinational companies.

Dai Xu’s response (one can only presume that he had been supplied with a copy of Wu’s article) was that no xenophobic (排外) incidents have ever taken place in China, so “narrow-minded nationalism” doesn’t exist:

Since the besieging of the Olympic Torch on a global scale in 2008, the encirclement by the US strategic alliance, and the urging on of internal separatists by external forces, voices advocating self-strengthening and vigilance against foreign anti-China forces creating chaos in China have indeed emerged. The author believes that this represents the shining spirit of China’s patriotic tradition. It is a good sign, a sign that China’s people are suddenly waking up from the hallucination of ‘Chimerica’ (中美国). Since Reform and Opening, despite China’s wholehearted constructiveness, we have still encountered much unfair treatment, so the Chinese people obviously have a reason to be angry, and a right to fight back. Chinese people of all strata should support this with voice and action to demonstrate national cohesion, uphold the overall [national] interest. How can this be seen as ‘narrow-minded nationalism’?

Dai goes on to claim that America is trying to build its global empire using the same multifaceted, winner-takes-all approach to China as it did the Soviet Union. However, while the US has no fear of China’s economic might, nor its military development, but what it does fear is China’s “patriotism” (爱国主义). This, Dai concludes, is the only way for China to fight back against America’s imperial ambitions.

In contrast to the almost conspiratorial overtones of the pen-name “Long Tao” (龙韬), Dai Xu is quite famous: he is a PLA Air Force researcher and author with the rank of colonel (上校) — similar to Luo Yuan — who has often appeared in the PRC media. His 2010 book argued that “China cannot escape the calamity of war, and this calamity may come in the not-too-distant future, at most in 10 to 20 years.” That work focused on the need to resist America’s anti-China plotting; two years on, his writing continues on the same theme.

He is also very, very angry about the South China Sea situation, as he demonstrates in this video. His arguments and turns of phrase in the video, make me strongly suspect that “CEFC strategic analyst” Long Tao was, in fact, “CEFC strategic analyst” Dai Xu.

Colonel Dai is a professor at China National Defense University, but this time (and on previous occasions if he is indeed “Long Tao”) he has for some reason chosen to appear on behalf of the China Energy Fund Committee. This brings me full-circle to the question i was left with last time: what exactly is the CEFC?

Last year, when its website actually worked, it was describing itself as a “non-profit, non-governmental think tank devoted to public diplomacy and researches on strategic issues with emphasis on energy and culture”. In February last year it was granted “consultative status” by the UN’s Committee on NGOs, which summarises it thus:

China Energy Fund Committee, an international NGO based in China which aims to gather talents both at home and abroad, and integrate essential information from all over the world, to conduct research concerning energy development strategy, international energy cooperation, and global energy security, and to contribute substantially to China’s sustainable development of energy.

I emailed three of its 38 consultants, asking who set it up and who funds it, and none of the three were willing or able to answer, referring my inquiry to the Head of Communications, who noted that it was “privately funded” and that “we conduct strategic research and public diplomacy focusing on achieving energy security for China and the world at large.”

However, after some more searching this evening, i found the CEFC listed as a “social responsibility” project on the website of one China Huaxin Energy Co. Ltd. (中国华信能源有限公司) , which calls itself “China CEFC Energy Company Limited” in English. In addition to the “CEFC” in Huaxin’s English name, the logos are exactly the same, so i think we can fairly safely conclude that the CEFC is set up and funded by Huaxin.

China Energy Fund Committee logo

Privately-run, and headquartered in Xujiahui, a suburb of Shanghai, Huaxin claims in English to have an annual turnover of more than RMB 30 billion (about US$5 billion) and a workforce of 12,000. In the Chinese version only, it claims that the RMB 30 billion is actually just its domestic turnover, and that it also has an overseas turnover of more than ten times that amount — a staggering US$50 billion, which is just under 1/4 PetroChina’s revenue (and with a workforce only 1/40 the size of PetroChina’s). I’m not saying it can’t be true, but….can it?

So where does this megalith get these billions? The website (in both Chinese and English) says:

CEFC specializes in oil, petrochemical and energy industries, with its mission of safeguarding national energy security, supporting the development of national strategic industries, and assisting national expansion and protection of overseas economic interests.

[. . .]

At present, it has established comprehensive commercial and industrial systems that involve both the upstream and downstream of the domestic oil and petrochemical industries, and cover the geological areas of Southeast Asia, Middle East, Africa and North America.

If it’s an oilfield services company, focusing on security, then perhaps that could explain its pro-war stance?

Or could it be driven by the 34-year-old Chairman of the Board, Ye Jianming 叶简明, who is listed as the founder of a “Fujian Huaxin Holdings”? (Don’t worry about his recent appointment to the board of another company either — he was definitely still in charge at Huaxin as of April 28.)

Chairman of the Board, Ye Jianming

He seems rather young to be in charge of a multi-billion dollar company, and if he’s a self-made billionaire, then he’s done extremely well to maintain such a low profile. Could Ye be a relation of the PLA immortal, and reform-era powerbroker, Marshal Ye Jianying 叶剑英?

The young chairman certainly seems to be somebody, judging by the copious references in the company periodical to “studying Chairman Ye’s” speeches and articles.

According to John Garnaut, one of the most clued-up foreign journalists when it comes to China’s princelings: “Marshal Ye engineered Xi Zhongxun’s appointment as party boss of Guangdong province and probably helped secure a career-building military post for his son Xi Jinping.” As such, Garnaut writes, Xi Jinping “owes a great deal to the families of both Marshal Ye and Hu Yaobang”.

Let me stress: I have scoured the internet for the past 2 hours and found no evidence that Ye Jianming is a member of Ye Jianying’s family. Nevertheless, it really does seem quite plausible. If the company is anywhere near as big as it claims to be, then being part of the Ye clan is probably the most likely explanation for why such a young guy is in charge of such a huge company. If he is, then we are talking about a very powerful guy. As in, really, really powerful — super-rich, with super-strong connections in both party and military.

If this is true, then attaching the CEFC label to a media commentary would put the weight of the Ye clan behind it, at least as far as intra-Party and PLA readers are concerned. And Dai Xu has chosen, probably on numerous occasions, to use his “CEFC strategic analyst” title, rather than his National Defense University position.


Luo Yuan: a profile

Luo Yuan at the CPPCC meeting in Beijing, March 2012

Translating the following profile on Luo Yuan led to an extremely stimulating discussion with a Chinese friend last night on the topic of this so-called “Major-General”. My friend sees the Luo Yuan media phenomenon as serving an important purpose for the central government: Luo basically acts as a layer of interference between the decision-makers and outside observers.

Among the various possibilities raised in the previous article on Luo Yuan, then, this explanation implies that his prominence in the media is very much a result of consensus at the top of both the military and the party that it is beneficial to have a hardline attack dog. The logic is strong: official-ish voices, those of like Luo and other hawkish paramilitary figures such as Major-General Zhang Zhaozhong of National Defense University, add a layer of unpredictability to Chinese foreign policy, a la North Korea’s antics.

My friend dismisses the idea that Luo Yuan could represent any kind of policy faction or alliance within the party or military; Luo has no influence of his own, he argues, and no genuine policy player would agree with him. The implication of this is that no-one in a position of power in China would actually want to act aggressively on the South China Sea issue. The players in the decision-making process, whoever they are, including military leaders, are much too rational to entertain such ideas.

The bigger picture that starts to take shape is one in which the China Threat Theory is actually something that the Chinese government wants, and perhaps even needs, in order to hide its soft underbelly.

Although the party-state’s approach to the South China Sea disputes is often publicly criticised in China as weak-kneed, my friend places this approach among the government’s continuous, long-term policies that are not subject to internal competition or debate. We can certainly discern a pattern of opportunism in China’s actual actions in the South China Sea, from the taking of the Paracels from South Vietnamese remnants in 1974, to the 1988 battle with Vietnam over the Union Atolls in the Spratlys as Vietnam’s backer the Soviet Union began to crumble, to the occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995 in the wake of the US’s departure from the Philippines.

However, the question might be asked: if China is so rational on the South China Sea issue, why did it alienate its neighbours and draw the US in by stepping up its presence in 2009-2011? Well, Michael Swaine & M. Taylor Fravel have shown, convincingly in my view, that China’s alleged assertiveness, or aggressiveness (or even “aggressive assertiveness“!) during that period was largely explainable as a series of responses to the actions of rival claimant states, mainly Vietnam and the Philippines.

That still leaves the question of Luo Yuan as an opinion leader in Chinese society. My friend’s reading of the situation suggests that the CCP is so confident of its control of domestic nationalist opinion that it doesn’t feel like it’s playing with fire at all when it allows mass outpourings of support for Luo and criticism of the policy status quo online. This confidence was especially apparent in July last year when China agreed to the Guidelines for the Implementation of the South China Sea DOC, inevitably causing nationalist outrage online.

Regarding the popular online support for Luo’s views, my friend puts this down to simple venting. Indeed, the article translated below suggests that the Chinese people just want to see someone in the military express hardline views, and want to believe that someone in power agrees with them. Nevertheless, he sees the allowing or facilitating of Luo Yuan’s media profile as primarily an externally-directed tactic.

So perhaps the CCP trusts that the public, on the whole, really doesn’t agree with Luo’s standpoints. I will be testing this idea through some offline opinion polling later this year – a likely finding of little support for stronger action in the South China Sea among everyday people, would support this conclusion. (This would be exactly the opposite of prominent US scholar Susan Shirk’s claim that the leadership feels threatened by a madly nationalistic public.) After all, a tiny fraction of the population can make a lot of noise online, as many of the South Sea conversations documented here illustrate.

So in sum, Luo Yuan’s media presence, and the provocative media coverage of the Scarborough Shoal standoff that i mused about here last week, could all be part of the same strategy of disinformation for the outside world: let guys like Luo Yuan rant, let the Chinese media make him seem credible, and let the internet users provide “evidence” that the Chinese people are angry about the South Sea and demanding tougher actions, when in fact they are apathetic, and tougher actions are not on the policy agenda.

This is basically a full inversion of the idea of China’s domestic situation dictating China’s foreign policy; instead, the domestic situation is being manipulated and used to China’s advantage at the international negotiating table. It suggests a broader and deeper application of the principles of the “strategic logic of anti-foreign protest” – aka the nationalism card.

The following profile on Luo Yuan, from the April 9 edition of Southern Window, gives the impression of an angry, impotent, and even confused Luo Yuan fighting an unwinnable battle against China’s moral decay. And despite his princeling background, he doesn’t appear to particularly well connected either.

Note: the translation is a summary one in some parts, but mostly it is sentence-by-sentence.

Luo Yuan the “hawk”

Zhang Jianfeng, Southern Weekend

The writer likens the courtyard at the Chinese Academy of Military Science to a “freeze-frame” scene. Luo Yuan sums up the peace and quiet as the site of “a battle without smoke, and a place for pre-practice of war, of concealed dragons and crouching tigers”. Some people deride the Chinese Academy of Military Science as being on the sideilnes, but Luo Yuan quotes a Deng Tuo poem on the ability of writers to cause bloodshed.

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