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Dual role for China's new security agency
Publication Date : 15-02-2014
China's newly created National Security Commission (NSC), a top decision-making body headed by the three most powerful men in the country, will have the dual role of protecting the country's security and safeguarding the ruling status of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Shortly before Chinese New Year, Beijing announced that President Xi Jinping will be chief of the NSC, while Premier Li Keqiang and parliamentary Speaker Zhang Dejiang will be the deputy chiefs. This line-up suggests that the commission is by far the most important decision-making organ within the CCP.
Many people expect the NSC will streamline the existing security-related organisations that were formed haphazardly to deal with emergency situations, and which therefore are either too fragmented or have purviews that overlap.
Currently, there are several such organisations. Foremost are the Central Leading Group on National Security and the Central Leading Group on Foreign Affairs.
Then there are the Central Military Commission (CMC) that handles military threats from abroad, and the Central Politics and Law Commission (CPLC) that handles domestic threats to political security and social stability.
There are also four region-specific Central Leading Groups, on Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong and Macau. These make policy decisions, including on security.
While the first three regions are traditionally plagued by separatism, in recent years, Hong Kong has also become a security concern as Beijing fears that some Western powers might turn the city into a base for subversive activities.
Finally, in mid-2013, a new National Leading Group on Anti-Terrorism was created to handle terrorism-related issues.
National Leading Groups, which come under government ministries and are headed by ministers, are a level below the Central Leading Groups, which are party-based and headed by Politburo members.
The NSC is likely to integrate all the security-related functions of these organisations within a single agency in order to improve coordination.
If the current Central Leading Group on National Security is any guide, the NSC will also have several members in a standing committee and ordinary members. In accordance with the CCP and the government hierarchy, these will be Politburo/vice-premier and central committee/minister-level officials, respectively.
The standing committee will also most likely include a vice-chairman from the CMC and the chairman of the CPLC.
The ordinary commission members will include heads of various ministries such as Foreign Affairs, Defence, State Security, Public Security, Commerce, the Taiwan Office, the Hong Kong and Macau Office, as well as the State Information Office and the CCP's Propaganda Department.
The decision to create an NSC was adopted at the party's third plenary session in November last year. Xi explained that China faced two types of threats, external and internal threats.
"Internationally, the country needs to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests; domestically, political security and social stability should be ensured," he explained.
Hence, "a powerful platform which can coordinate security work is needed".
In CCP jargon, political security means preserving the CCP's ruling status and keeping the one-party political system intact.
According to Professor Gong Fangbin of the National Defence University, non-traditional threats rather than traditional ones are fast becoming a greater danger to China.
In an article published earlier this year, Prof Gong said that although the idea of creating an NSC was mooted 10 years ago, what prompted Xi to go ahead with it was not traditional threats, but non-traditional ones.
By traditional security threats, Prof Gong meant foreign military invasion that endangered China's sovereignty, territorial integrity and physical security. In his opinion, threats such as this were declining, thanks to China's growing military prowess and its commitment to a peaceful-rise strategy.
"To handle traditional threats, the current CMC is fully competent, and no new organisations need to be created," he argued.
However, he believed that the country is ill-prepared to handle non-traditional threats. He identified four major types: Separatism; religious fundamentalism and terrorism; economic security (including food, energy and raw material supply, as well as financial security); cultural and ideological security; and Internet security (including information security).
According to Prof Gong, the CCP is more concerned with these non-traditional threats because they endanger its ruling position.
In fact, preserving the ruling status of the CCP was top on Xi's mind after he took over the helm in November 2012.
On June22 last year, at a special Politburo meeting, he requested for the first time that Politburo members "conscientiously preserve the security of the party's ruling position and the socialist regime".
Then, on July 11, Xi paid a ceremonial visit to Xi Bai Po, the pre-1949 CCP capital, and pledged he would ensure that "our party would never change its nature, and that our Red mountains and rivers would never change their colour".
The obsession with preserving the ruling status of the CCP could be an important factor that prompted Xi to create the NSC.