New China panel to streamline border response

Published - November 15, 2013 10:56 pm IST - BEIJING:

A newly set up National Security Commission (NSC) under President Xi Jinping will allow China to mount a more unified and prompt response to both border issues and internal security threats, according to a new policy document released on Friday.

The NSC, Mr. Xi said in the document, would address “two pressures” China is facing. “Internationally, the country needs to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests; domestically, political security and social stability should be ensured,” the President was quoted as saying in the document, by the official Xinhua news agency.

Friday’s policy document, titled a “decision on major issues concerning comprehensive and far-reaching reforms,” was released by the Communist Party of China (CPC) following a key four-day meeting of the new leadership, which concluded here on November 12.

While the meeting’s focus was agreeing on a blueprint for economic reforms, the plenum also agreed to set up a first-ever NSC. The commission, analysts have said, would help Mr. Xi directly assert his authority on security issues — and, observers noted, raise both the President’s powers and his profile.

Mr. Xi, in Friday’s document, described “State security and social stability” as “preconditions for reform and development.” On the domestic front, the commission will focus on both social stability and addressing security threats — an issue that has received prominence following last month’s attack in Tiananmen Square.

On the external front, Mr. Xi highlighted maintaining sovereignty as a specific challenge, indicating that the NSC may play a role in managing China’s many territorial disputes, whether with India on the west, over the South China Sea, or with Japan over the disputed Diaoyu or Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.

“With only the Coast Guard given responsibility for the Senkaku islands and the South China Sea, there is a demand within China that the new body should plan for all of these threats,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, an expert on the Chinese military at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

He said the NSC could have “an impact on the Indian front,” where recent spats over the disputed border have highlighted, according to some analysts, gaps in the Chinese chain of command. Troops were involved in a three-week stand-off in April in Depsang, in Ladakh, after Chinese soldiers set up a tent in disputed territory.

“The Chinese have not explained why Depsang happened,” Professor Kondapalli said.

“That the Chinese themselves have not given an explanation suggests that at their end this issue is highly complicated.”

Professor Kondapalli said the NSC might look to address the “disjuncture” between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which is tasked with border defence, and the increasingly influential People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) which often deals with terrorism and separatist-related threats.

“China has already put up huge outposts with integrated command systems over 20,000 km of its borders,” he said. “Yet the Depsang incident happened, which indicates the need for more centralised decision-making. It’s perhaps not a coincidence,” he added, “that the Depsang incident came a few months before this commission was set up.”

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