In a fiery editorial published Tuesday under the headline, "Recognize conspiracies: some People's Liberation Army (PLA) officials are wavering in stance," military newspaper the PLA Daily called on officials to remain faithful to the Communist Party of China (CPC) and keep a sober mind about attempts from "international opposition forces" to split the country by advocating command of the army by the State instead of the Party.
"For a while, there have been calls for a non-political, non-partisan military led by the State," the newspaper said. "As the Party's officials, we must resolutely follow the orders of the CPC Central Committee, the CPC Central Military Commission and Chairman Hu (Jintao)."
This is not the first time the PLA Daily and other official publications have lashed out against military nationalization.
On March 19, the country's flagship military newspaper called for "resolute resistance against the wrong concept of military nationalization." In March and June last year, the newspaper respectively quoted military officials based in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, and Li Jinai, director of the PLA's General Political Department, as refuting military nationalization.
Opposition to military nationalization flared up in 2002, when Zhang Wannian, then vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, stressed the Party's absolute command over the armed forces.
But the PLA Daily's editorial this week was one of the rare acknowledgements of waning faith among some "leading officials of various levels" toward the Party. The editorial did not name officials suspected of supporting nationalization, nor did it explain details of any individual cases.
A military expert and professor at the PLA National Defense University, who spoke to the Global Times on condition of anonymity, said that the PLA Daily's warning was likely triggered by "foreign hostile forces" being more vocal in challenging the CPC's role ahead of the 18th CPC National Congress to be held later this year.
Battleground for debate
Online debate about military nationalization has heated up lately, with many opponents of the idea stressing such a move could harm the country and people's interests.
Kong Qingdong, a professor at Peking University, said on his microblog that supporters of military nationalization are seeking to "privatize" the army. The PLA has been the armed forces of the country and its people since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and is currently "the most advanced national army led by the Party," Kong wrote.
Aside from social commentators and pundits, ordinary Web users have also rejected the idea of military nationalization. "We've criticized corruption within the government and military, but have never had to think of a domestic military confrontation that could split our motherland," said a Weibo microblogger named "Guima Six Seven."
The Southern Metropolis Daily stoked tensions when its In-Depth Report section weighed into the debate on its Weibo account. It forwarded a pro-nationalization post by the newspaper's former editor and current vice president of Asia Television, Cheng Yizhong, while commenting that "the masses could also set up an army of its own." The post was promptly deleted, and Cheng's Weibo accounts on Sina and Tencent were both removed by online administrators Thursday.
Following a torrent of criticism online, the newspaper apologized on its Weibo account Wednesday and claimed the forwarding of the post had been made by a hacker.
"The principles of military nationalization seem correct on the surface, but they are contrary to the country's real conditions and represent a false theory for China," Li Wei, director of the Institute of Security and Strategic Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times.
The CPC's absolute leadership over the military is vital in maintaining national security and serves the fundamental interests of the country's people, Li added.
Academics have said the debate over military nationalization in China has been distorted by claims that it is equivalent to forming a "national military," causing confusion among the public.
Qi Biao, a professor at the PLA National Defense University, affirmed that "military nationalization" and a "national military" are two completely different concepts. In an article featured in the Journal of Political Science, a periodical published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Qi stressed that the army is a part of the State and that military nationalization is significant only when a country has not been unified and an army is not part of the country.
Li said China will not copy the military systems of some Western countries, where political parties indirectly control the armed forces, because such countries have different historical and political conditions. "Everyone should respect history and the reality," Li said.
Wary of past failures
An editorial published in the PLA Daily on May 7, 2009 warned that if China's armed forces become nationalized, "the military will decay into a tool that serves only personal interests or certain groups."
Since the late 1980s, Western powers led by the US have promoted their so-called democratic model that includes a nationalized military, causing serious consequences in the Soviet Union, Africa and the Arab world, Qi said. Military nationalization has become a strategic tool for the West to subvert the systems of socialist countries and break down nations deemed "disobedient," he added.
"The Party's control over the military and arms in general ensured the success of China's revolution and the foundation of the People's Republic. We must defend the bottom line," Li Daguang, a military expert at the PLA National Defense University, told the Global Times.
This week's editorial in the PLA Daily warned that cases of disciplinary violations in the military in recent years have resulted in painful lessons.
"The higher the position we are in, the more power we have and the more prudent we should be when it comes to exercising that power," it said.