Two of China’s most secretive military leaders in charge of the People’s Liberation Army’s strategic nuclear and missile forces have called for missile troops to fight against becoming “Westernized.”
Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, commander of China’s 2nd Artillery Forces, which operate all nuclear weapons and strategic missiles, and his political commissar, Gen. Zhang Haiyang, made the comments in a jointly signed June 9 article in the official Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily.
The prominently displayed article was unusual because China’s nuclear forces are the most secret element of the military.
The two generals vowed their absolute resolve to resist any “Westernization” and to guarantee the missile forces’ “total submission to the command of the Party.”
Such statements are part of the military’s ritual exercise of swearing loyalty before next year’s major 18th Communist Party Congress, as occurred in the months leading up to congresses in 2002 and 2007.
The timing suggests something Byzantine may well be at play. Gen. Jing is widely reported in China as the man Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates most wanted to talk to in person in Washington. Instead, Mr. Gates saw Gen. Zhang, who was given extra attention a few weeks ago in Washington when he surprisingly was included in the PLA delegation. Such nuclear generals are rarely allowed to visit the West.
Frequently in the past, favorable attention given to Chinese officials from foreign leaders has been a deadly trigger for political purges, as the party remains extremely paranoid about foreign infiltration among its top generals.
As China’s leading 2nd Artillery Forces blogger, Song Zhongping (blog name Chief of Staff Hu), wrote in January, repeated invitations from the United States and especially Mr. Gates for Gen. Jing, and his predecessors, to visit the United States are part of a sinister objective: “to drag Jing Zhiyuan to the U.S. in the name of military exchange so that the Americans could ‘lure and trap’ him for more information [about nuclear forces].”
Historically, this paranoia kills. In 1959, Mao Zedong sacked his defense minister, Marshal Peng Dehuai, for his alleged collusion with leaders of the Soviet bloc in criticizing Mao during his fateful visit to Moscow immediately prior to the sacking. In 1964, Marshal He Long and Prime Minister Zhou Enlai aroused Mao’s deep suspicion when the two leaders were approached at a Moscow reception in November that year by then-Soviet Defense Minister Rodion Malinovsky, who allegedly said to He and Zhou: “We just got rid of Khrushchev, it’s your turn to get rid of Mao!”
Mao soon sacked He and tortured him to death in collusion with the double-faced Zhou. However, Zhou’s turn would come soon. In November 1973, visiting Secretary of State Henry Kissinger talked to Zhou about setting up a Washington-Beijing telephone hotline. Mao was enormously paranoid over Mr. Kissinger’s rapport with Zhou and seized on this incident to launch an internal “line struggle” against Zhou’s “Rightist Capitulationism to Washington” that forced the ailing Prime Minister to go through another round of humiliating self-confessions, almost killing Zhou.
Since Mao’s time, many Chinese military leaders routinely and eagerly express their utter loyalty to the party to cover their rears whenever they are even re- motely considered to have been “wooed” by the West. Generals Jing and Zhang seem to be learning something from historical lessons. Castro in singing the ultimate communist song of China, “The East Is Red.” The song is widely regarded as the quintessential symbol of Mao’s personality cult. While in Cuba, Mr. Xi also went to see the ailing “Comrade Fidel Castro” for a moment of communist solidarity.
Mr. Xi inspected a Chinese oil exploratory project site in Cuba managed by China’s state-owned Great Wall Drilling Co. China is Cuba’s second-largest trade partner, closely following Venezuela.
Miles Yu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.