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China’s recent Third Plenum has marked numerous milestones for the fast-growing Asian giant. While much of the focus in the media has been on economic reform, numerous other major decisions were reached. Perhaps most importantly, China will now work to establish a new “State Security Committee” (SSC) to centralize power in the hands of the Communist Party’s top leaders.
China facing various internal threats
The SSC will allow the party’s top officials to streamline security efforts between civilian and military apparatuses. With China facing increasing domestic protests and unrest, and other internal threats, there is a high need for a consolidated security force. At the same time, however, creating such a large state security machine, if handled wrong, could lead to unrest and resentment among the general population, tarnishing President Xi’s reputation.
Furthermore, whenever bureaucracies are combined, the risk of “turf wars” and other issues also greatly increases. While China is officially ruled by “one party” there are many different factions and allegiances within that one party that can complicate internal relations. While many elements of China’s government being controlled by various committees, the President and Prime Minister do not actually enjoy that much direct control over the so-called “weiwen” portfolio, which handles domestic security.
CPLC’s bad reputation
The weiwen portfolio is currently controlled by the Central Politics and Law Commission (CPLC), and has become a frequent target of criticism in recent years. The CPLC has gained a rather bad reputation for its treatment of internal migrant workers, minorities, and poor people in general. With such workers making up the bulk of China’s population, however, there is a serious risk that the CPLC could actually lead to increased destabilization in its handling of domestic issues.
President Xi has been working to reign in the CPLC, understanding that the Communist Party cannot risk alienating such a huge portion of its population. In many ways, the Third Plenum focused on reshaping the “Peoples’ Party” into a more people-friendly party. With China’s middle class quickly emerging and tensions slowly increasing between the rich and the poor, the CCP will have to work harder to keep tensions subdued.
SSC to integrate China’s foreign policy
The SSC will also integrate China’s foreign policy and military apparatuses, which have previously remained divided between two separate committees. This has made it difficult for the government to coordinate diplomatic and military efforts. With tensions rising over the South China Sea and China’s gradual emergence as a superpower on the world stage, coordinating such efforts may prove essential.
If nothing else, the moves continue to prove that President Xi is more than serious about reshaping and modernizing his government. China’s Communist Party has been in need of a major overhaul, but the last few generations of leaders have shirked at the responsibility and amount of effort required to do so. President Xi, on the other hand, rode into power on the promise of change and so far he appears willing to deliver.