22 September 2018
China is forming a state security committee to be headed by party general secretary Xi Jinping. Photo: Bloomberg
China is forming a state security committee to be headed by party general secretary Xi Jinping. Photo: Bloomberg

POLICY WATCH: New body firms Xi’s security hold

The speculative chatter was all about economics but in the lead-up to the Communist Party’s third Central Committee plenum this week, the real — but unintended — harbinger was the car crash in Tiananmen Square in Beijing late last month.

After the four-day gathering of its 300-plus elite, the party announced that it was forming a state security committee to maintain internal stability and protect its external security interests.

The committee will run along the lines of the United States National Security Council but little is known for sure about its operations other than it will bring senior government, military, diplomatic and party officials together under President Xi Jinping {習近平} to streamline decision making to help China respond better to fast-moving crises. It will have the power to coordinate different government organs at the highest level in response to a major emergency, such as a threat to China’s borders or a terrorist attack.

Political observers say that whatever the specifics of the new security arm, it shows that Xi is taking tighter control of national security issues ahead of overarching structural economic reforms.

A look at the plenum communique released after the meeting reveals the focus on internal issues. It highlighted the need for China to improve social governance, safeguard state security, ensure people’s livelihood and maintain social stability.

These are front and center because China is grappling with a growing number of strikes, protests and riots that it considers threats to domestic stability. There are also persistent ethnic tensions in Tibet and Xinjiang, reflected in the deadly Oct. 28 incident in which a sport-utility vehicle crashed and burst into flames at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing its three occupants and two bystanders. The government called the incident a terrorist attack.

Some commentators in Hong Kong also said the new security organisation could tighten the central government’s political grip on the city as it prepares to introduce universal suffrage for the 2017 election for chief executive. It might also plan to intervene in Taiwan’s internal affairs to deter Taiwan independence, they said. But Beijing’s concerns extend well beyond Greater China. Geopolitical tensions are growing in relation North Korea, Japan, the South China Sea as well as the US pivot to Asia.

Security analysts said China desperately needs an organization like the state security committee to develop long-term national strategies to tackle problems at their root. The national anti-terrorism team under the Ministry of Public Security now has responsibility for responding to terror attacks but it has no capacity to eliminate the source of the danger. Instead, domestic security is now handled by the Central Politics and Law Commission headed by Meng Jianzhu {孟建柱}, who is not on all-powerful the Politburo Standing Committee. 

– Contact the reporter at [email protected]



    EJ Insight writer

    EJI Weekly Newsletter

    Please click here to unsubscribe