Overview | Government

This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Derived from The Library of Congress.


Overview: China is a unitary and socialist state whose constitution calls on the nation to “concentrate on socialist modernization by following the road of building socialism with Chinese characteristics” all the while adhering to the “leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory” as well as “the important thought of the Three Represents,” which are attributed to former CCP general secretary and president of China Jiang Zemin. The political system is led by the 66.4-million-member CCP. Political processes are guided by the CCP constitution and, increasingly, by the state constitution, both promulgated in 1982. The CCP constitution was revised in 2002, and the state constitution was amended in 1988, 1993, 1999, and 2004. Both constitutions stress the principle of democratic centralism, under which the representative organs of both party and state are elected by lower bodies and in turn elect their administrative arms at corresponding levels. Within representative and executive bodies, the minority must abide by decisions of the majority; lower bodies obey orders of higher-level organs. In theory, the National Party Congress ranks as the highest organ of party power, but actual power lies in the CCP Central Committee and its even more exclusive Political Bureau. At the apex of all political power are the members of the elite Standing Committee of the Political Bureau.

In September 2004 at the Fourth Plenary Session of the 16th CCP Congress, former party, state, and military leader Jiang Zemin completed his formal handover of responsibilities to Hu Jintao. At the plenum, Jiang gave up his last key position, chairmanship of the CCP Central Military Commission. With Hu holding that position, as well as those of general secretary of the CCP (since November 2002) and president of China (since March 2003), the succession ostensibly was complete. However, Jiang confidants and allies were still entrenched in key positions, and Jiang himself, through several high-profile public appearances, indicated that he would continue to be influential in central party and state policy making.

Executive Branch: The head of state of China is the president (Hu Jintao, since March 2003, when he succeeded Jiang Zemin). The vice president is Zeng Qinghong (since March 2003; he succeeded Hu). Articles 79–80 of the constitution provide for a president and vice president elected by the National People’s Congress (NPC) for five-year terms and no more than two consecutive terms. The president “engages in activities involving State affairs and receives foreign diplomatic represents.” In pursuance of the decisions of the NPC Standing Committee, the president appoints and recalls plenipotentiary representatives abroad and ratifies and abrogates treaties and important agreements concluded with foreign states. The vice president assists the president in his work, “may exercise such parts of the functions and powers of the President as the President may entrust to him,” and succeeds to the presidency should the office of president become vacant. Should both offices become vacant, the chairman of the NPC Standing Committee becomes acting president until the NPC elects a new president and vice president.

The government is led by the State Council, the equivalent of a cabinet. The State Council is headed by a premier (Wen Jiabao, since March 2003). There also are four vice premiers and five state councillors (one of whom is the secretary general of the State Council). One of the vice premiers and two of the state councillors double as ministers handling such key portfolios as national defense, public security, and public health. In 2006 there were 22 ministries and four commissions subordinate to the State Council. In addition, the People’s Bank of China (China’s central bank) and the National Audit Office are part of the State Council system. The five-year terms of office run concurrently with those of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and are limited to no more than two consecutive terms. Executive meetings of the State Council are attended by the premier, vice premiers, state councillors, and secretary general of the State Council. The State Council reports on its work to the NPC and, when the NPC is not in session, to its Standing Committee.

Legislative Branch: According to the constitution, the National People’s Congress (NPC) is “the highest organ of state power” and exercises “the legislative power of the state.” Deputies to the NPC are elected from the provinces, autonomous regions, centrally administered municipalities, special administrative regions, and the armed forces. Elections are conducted by the permanent body of the NPC, the Standing Committee, and normally are held at least two months before the end of the current NPC. Deputies serve five-year terms and meet annually for two or three weeks, typically in March or April; 2,979 deputies were elected to the current 10th NPC. The NPC is empowered to amend the constitution; supervise the enforcement of the constitution; and elect the president and vice president of the People’s Republic, chairman of the state Central Military Commission, president of the Supreme People’s Court, and procurator general of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. It also has the authority “to decide on” the choice of the premier of the State Council upon nomination of the president and the members of the State Council upon nomination by the premier. Among the other responsibilities of the NPC is to “examine and approve” national economic and social development plans and the state budget and to “decide on questions of war and peace.” The NPC also can alter or annul “inappropriate decisions” of the Standing Committee, approve the establishment of provincial-level units, and rule on the establishment of special administrative regions. The current chairman of the NPC Standing Committee since March 2003 is Wu Bangguo, a former vice premier and current member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Political Bureau.

When the full NPC is not in session, its Standing Committee meets and wields broad legislative powers. The NPC Standing Committee consists of a chairman, 15 vice chairmen, a secretary general, and 153 members, including the officers. Standing Committee members are not allowed to hold administrative, judicial, or procuratorial posts and, in practice, are often senior CCP and former state leaders and officials. As with the NPC membership, the chairman and vice chairmen may serve no more than two consecutive terms. Other committees, which work under the direction of the Standing Committee, include Nationalities; Law; Finance and Economic; Education, Science, Culture, and Public Health; Foreign Affairs; Overseas Chinese; and other special committees.

Another quasi-constitutional consultative body that provides an institutional framework for interaction among the CCP, state organizations, and other social and political organizations is the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Members are distinguished scholars, educators, and intellectuals, key representatives of religious and minority nationality groups, leading members of political parties loyal to the CCP during the anti-Guomindang years, and representatives of Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and Chinese overseas. The CPPCC typically meets once a year and has a standing committee that convenes when needed between sessions. The current chairman of the CPPCC is Jia Qinglin, a member of the CCP Political Bureau Standing Committee and ally of former CCP secretary general Jiang Zemin.

Judicial Branch: China has a four-level court system. At the top is the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing. Lower courts are the higher people’s courts in provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities; intermediate people’s courts at the prefecture level and also in parts of provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities; and basic people’s courts in counties, towns, and municipal districts. Special courts handle matters affecting the military, railroad transportation, water transportation, and forestry.

Constitutionally, the court system exercises judicial power independently and technically is free of interference from administrative organs, public organizations, and individuals. The Supreme People’s Court supervises the administration of justice by local courts and special courts, while courts at higher levels oversee the administration of courts at lower levels. At each level, the courts are “responsible to the organs of state power which created them.” Judges are limited to two consecutive terms running concurrently with the National People’s Congress or local people’s congresses.

The court system is paralleled by a hierarchy of prosecuting organs called people’s procuratorates; at the apex stands the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. The procurators serve as prosecutors, or district attorneys, and are limited to two consecutive terms running concurrently with the NPC or local people’s congresses.

Administrative Divisions: China has 22 provinces (sheng), five autonomous regions (zizhiqu), and four municipalities (shi). The provinces are, in the northeast: Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning; in the north: Shandong, Hebei, Shanxi, and Shaanxi; in central China: Jiangsu, Anhui, Henan, Hubei, and Zhejiang; in the south: Hunan, Jiangxi, Fujian, Guangdong, and Hainan (an island in the South China Sea); in the southwest: Guizhou, Yunnan, and Sichuan; and in the northwest: Gansu and Qinghai. The autonomous regions—Guangxi Zhuang, Tibet (Xizang), Xinjiang Uygur, Inner Mongolia, and Ningxia Hui—are in border areas with large non-Han ethnic minority populations from which they take their names or part of their names. The four municipalities—Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing—are directly controlled by the central government. China also has two special administrative regions (SARs): Hong Kong, which reverted from British control in 1997; and Macau, which reverted from Portuguese control in 1999. Beijing also claims Taiwan as a province.

Provincial and Local Government: The governors of China’s provinces and autonomous regions and mayors of its centrally controlled municipalities are appointed by the central government in Beijing after receiving the nominal consent of the National People’s Congress (NPC). The Hong Kong and Macau special administrative regions (SARs) have some local autonomy since they have separate governments, legal systems, and basic constitutional laws, but they come under Beijing’s control in matters of foreign affairs and national security, and their chief executives are handpicked by the central government. Below the provincial level in 2004 there were 50 rural prefectures, 283 prefecture-level cities, 374 county-level cities, 852 county-level districts under the jurisdiction of nearby cities, and 1,636 counties. There also were 662 cities (including those incorporated into the four centrally controlled municipalities), 808 urban districts, and 43,258 township-level regions. Counties are divided into townships and villages. While most have appointed officials running them, some lower-level jurisdictions have direct popular elections. The organs of self-governing ethnic autonomous areas (regions, prefectures, and counties)—people’s congresses and people’s governments—exercise the same powers as their provincial-level counterparts but are guided additionally by the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy and require NPC Standing Committee approval for regulations they enact “in the exercise of autonomy” and “in light of the political, economic, and cultural characteristics of the ethnic group or ethnic groups in the areas.”

Special Administrative Regions: China has two special administrative regions, Hong Kong (Xianggang in Putonghua) and Macau (Aomen in Putonghua). As a result of the First Anglo-Chinese War (1842), China ceded Hong Kong Island to the United Kingdom under the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. In 1860 the British acquired in perpetuity the Kowloon (Jiulong) Peninsula under the Convention of Beijing. The remaining area, the New Territories, was leased for 99 years in 1898. The Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong was signed between the Chinese and British Governments in 1984. The entire colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). Although originally the 1,092-square-kilometer area was part of Guangdong Province, the Hong Kong SAR reports directly to the State Council in Beijing. The head of state of Hong Kong is the president of China, Hu Jintao. The head of government is a Beijing appointee, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. Hong Kong, with an estimated 6,940,432 people (as of July 2006), has a partly popularly elected legislature and operates under the Basic Law, which embodies the principle of “one country, two systems” and states that the socialist system and policies shall not be practiced in Hong Kong; Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system and lifestyle are to remain unchanged until 2047. The Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR was adopted on April 4, 1990, by the National People’s Congress (NPC) and came into effect on July 1, 1997. Chinese and English are the official languages of Hong Kong.

The area that has come to be called Macau had been a maritime way station between China and India and regions farther west since the early sixteenth century. Portugal first obtained a leasehold on the area from the Qing court in 1557, although China retained sovereignty. In 1844, without Beijing’s concurrence, Lisbon made Macau an overseas province of Portugal. Although China recognized Macau as a Portuguese colony in an 1862 treaty signed with Portugal, the treaty was never ratified by China, and Macau was never officially ceded to Portugal. A protocol dealing with relations between China and Portugal was signed in Lisbon in 1887 confirming the “perpetual occupation and government” of Macau by Portugal (with Portugal’s promise “never to alienate Macau and dependencies without agreement with China”). The islands of Taipa and Coloane also were ceded to Portugal, but the border of the Macau Peninsula with the mainland was not delimited. The Treaty of Commerce and Friendship (1888) recognized Portuguese sovereignty over Macau but again was never actually ratified by China. In 1974 the new Portuguese government granted independence to all overseas colonies and recognized Macau as part of China's territory. In 1979 China and Portugal exchanged diplomatic recognition, and Beijing acknowledged Macau as “Chinese territory under Portuguese administration.” A joint communiqué signed in 1986 called for negotiations on the Macau question, and four rounds of talks followed between June 30, 1986, and March 26, 1987. The Joint Declaration on the Question of Macau was signed in Beijing on April 13, 1987, setting the stage for the return of Macau to full Chinese sovereignty as a special administrative region on December 20, 1999.

Although originally the now 28.2-square-kilometer area was part of Guangdong Province, the Macau SAR reports directly to the State Council in Beijing. Macau’s head of state is the president of China. The head of government is a Beijing appointee, Chief Executive Edmund H.W. Ho. Macau, numbering an estimated 453,125 people (in July 2006), also has a partly popularly elected legislature and operates under the Basic Law of the Macau SAR, adopted by the NPC in 1993 and taking effect on December 20, 1999. Like the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR, Macau’s basic law covers the relationship between the central government and Macau; the fundamental rights and duties of the residents; the political structure; the economy and cultural and social affairs; external affairs; and the amendment process. Chinese and Portuguese are the official languages of Macau.

Cross-Strait Relations with Taiwan: China considers Taiwan a province and an inalienable part of China, which has been separated from China since 1949 when the Guomindang (Nationalist Party) government of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kei-shek) fled there in the face of defeat by communist forces. Taiwan still controls one island that appertains to the mainland—Jinmen (Kinmen or Quemoy), which is part of Fujian Province. In Beijing matters dealing with Taiwan are handled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee’s Taiwan Work Office and the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office. Beijing is adamantly opposed to independence or any quasi-state status for Taiwan and has alternated since the late 1970s between overtures for peaceful reunification and statements of resolution to forcefully reclaim Taiwan if necessary. Beijing has called for resuming cross-strait negotiations, formally ending the state of hostility that has persisted since 1949, and addressing cross-strait problems through timely negotiations. During the reform period, China and Taiwan began to allow economic and trade exchanges, travel, tourism, and other activities. Several breakthroughs in relations occurred in 2005. The first was the launch of two-way, round-trip, and nonstop charter flights across the Taiwan Strait starting in February 2005. This development was dampened by Taiwan’s reactions to legislation adopted by China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) on March 14, 2005, “for the purpose of opposing and checking Taiwan's secession from China by secessionists in the name of "Taiwan independence.” However, soon thereafter, further developments occurred that Beijing found more favorable to Taiwan reunification. These occurred when the leaders of three Taiwan political parties made separate trips to China between March and May 2005. First, Kuomintang Vice Chairman Chiang Pin-kung led a delegation to China to initiate talks on cross-strait economics and trade. Then the chairman of the Kuomintang, Lien Chan, made a “journey of peace” visit and signed a joint communiqué with CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao concerning the promotion of cross-strait exchanges and cooperation. Finally, James Soong, chairman of the People First Party, visited China. All three trips were strictly party-to-party meetings. These visits to the mainland were followed by a delegation of the New Party led by its chairman, Mok Mu-ming in July 2005.

Judicial and Legal System: In 2004 the National People’s Congress (NPC) amended the constitution so that for the first time the protection of the individual was incorporated as a constitutional requirement. Specifically, Articles 37 and 38 recognize the “freedom of the person” and the “personal dignity of citizens” as “inviolable.” Although the 1997 Criminal Procedure Law allows the police to detain a person for up to 37 days before release or formal arrest, more vigorous court reviews have led to the release of thousands of unlawfully detained individuals. However, although the law stipulates that the authorities must notify a detainee’s family or work unit of the detention within 24 hours, in practice timely notification is often disregarded, especially in sensitive political cases. Police sometimes hold individuals without granting access to family members or lawyers, and their trials are sometimes conducted in secret. Detained criminal suspects, defendants, their legal representatives, and close relatives are entitled to apply for bail, but, in practice, few suspects are released pending trial. The reeducation-through-labor system allows nonjudicial panels of police and local civil authorities to sentence individuals to up to three years in prison-like facilities. It has been reported that some detainees, usually political activists or dissidents, have been incarcerated in high-security psychiatric facilities for the criminally insane. Police and prosecutorial officials have been accused of ignoring due process provisions of the law and constitution.

Citizens have a constitutional guarantee of the right to use their own spoken and written language in court proceedings. Courts and procuratorates are advised by the constitution that they “should provide translations for any party to the court proceedings who is not familiar with the spoken or written languages in common use in the locality.” The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the courts are subjected to party and government policy guidance that influences the outcome of verdicts and sentences. Conviction rates in criminal cases in the early 2000s were approximately 90 percent, and trials generally were little more than sentencing hearings. Although most suspects in criminal cases are legally guaranteed the right to counsel, they often meet their appointed attorney only once before the hearing; at best, a defense attorney can obtain a reduction of the sentence. In many politically sensitive trials, rarely lasting more than several hours, the courts hand down guilty verdicts immediately following proceedings, and death sentences are often implemented within days of the rejection of an appeal.

Electoral System: Under the Organic Law of the Village Committees, all of China’s approximately 1 million villages are expected to hold competitive, direct elections for subgovernmental village committees. A 1998 revision to the law called for improvements in the nominating process and enhanced transparency in village committee administration. The revised law also explicitly transferred the power to nominate candidates to villagers themselves, as opposed to village groups or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) branches. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, as of 2003 the majority of provinces had carried out at least four or five rounds of village elections. Deputies to local people’s congresses of provinces, centrally administered municipalities, and cities divided into districts are elected by the people’s congress at the next lower level. Deputies to people’s congresses of counties, cities not divided into districts, municipal districts, townships, ethnic townships, and towns are elected directly by their constituencies to five-year terms. The local congresses each have corresponding standing committees that exercise legislative authority when the full congresses are not in session. Some townships and urban areas also have experimented with direct elections of local government leaders, plus local people’s congresses have the constitutional authority to recall the heads and deputy heads of government at the provincial level and below. The constitution does not specify how deputies to the people’s congresses of the autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures, and autonomous counties are chosen. Elected leaders, however, remain subordinate to the corresponding CCP secretary, and most are appointed by higher-level party organizations. Although China’s constitution guarantees suffrage for citizens age 18 and older, the CCP maintains a close watch on electoral democracy at the grassroots levels and controls the outcome of elections at other levels.

Politics and Political Parties: After its founding in July 1921, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had only 57 members and little influence, but by 2005 the CCP had 70.8 million members and controlled all political, governmental, and military organs. Although political reform was not one of the Four Modernizations promulgated so earnestly after 1978, the CCP has allowed greater participation by nonparty members in economic and social developments. Within the party, the CCP practices what it calls “democratic centralism,” which, in effect, means that the minority follows the decisions of the majority, each level follows the directives of the next highest level, and all follow the lead of the party’s center. Constitutionally, the CCP’s national congress is the party’s highest body. It is convened every five years, usually prior to the National People’s Congress. However, to operate, it elects a Central Committee, which in turn elects (or approves) the members of the Political Bureau and that organ’s even more elite Standing Committee. The current Central Committee has 198 members and 158 alternate members. The Political Bureau has 24 members and one alternate member, and its Standing Committee has nine members, including Hu Jintao, who became CCP general secretary in November 2002, succeeding Jiang Zemin. Of its 66.4 million members, 16.6 percent are women, only 6.1 percent members of minority nationalities, and 23.1 percent under age 35. Unlike the largely peasant, worker, and military veteran party of the past, 29.2 percent are high-school graduates, 17.8 percent of CCP members have undergraduate degrees, and 0.5 percent have graduate degrees.

When Mao led the party from 1935 to his death in 1976, he held the position of CCP chairman. His immediate and short-term successor Hua Guofeng also held the title of chairman, as did Hua’s successor when he took office in 1981, Hu Yaobang, who held the title for a short time until the position was then abolished at the CCP Twelfth Party Congress in September 1982, endowing the general secretary as the most powerful position in the party. Deng Xiaoping, despite being the paramount leader in China in the post-Mao era, never held the top party or state positions. Instead, he allowed more junior leaders to hold these positions. When Deng’s longest-term successor, Jiang Zemin, retired in stages between 2002 and 2004, he appeared to have assumed a similar behind-the-throne position of influence.

Day-to-day management of the CCP is carried out by a central secretariat and various functional departments: the International Liaison Department, United Front Work Department, Organization Department, Propaganda Department, and Party Central Academy. Party secretaries are found at all levels of government and the military and in industries, academia, and other parts of society. In 2004 the CCP reported more than 3.3 million party branches throughout the nation. Its main organs are the daily newspaper Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) and the semimonthly theoretical journal Qiu Shi (Seeking Truth, formerly titled Hongqi, or Red Flag).

China also has titular “democratic” parties that were loyal to the CCP in the pre-1949 period and continue to function within the structure of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), namely, the China Association for Promoting Democracy, China Democratic League, China Democratic National Construction Association, China Zhigongdang (Party for Public Interest), Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party, Jiusan (September Third—a reference to the date of the defeat of Japan in 1945) Society, Guomindang Revolutionary Committee, and Taiwan Self-Government League. An independent opposition party, the China Democracy Party, has been banned since 1998 and its leaders arrested.

Mass Media: China’s electronic mass media are regulated by the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, a subordinate agency of the Ministry of Information Industry. The Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department traditionally has played a large role as arbiter of standards for appropriate broadcasts. The People’s Broadcasting Station transmits radio broadcasts in standard Chinese (Putonghua) and the various dialects and minority languages throughout China. In 2004, 282 domestic radio stations and 774 short- and medium-wave radio relaying and transmitting stations operated, and many stations provided Internet access to some of their broadcasts. China National Radio, headquartered in Beijing, transmits programs in standard Chinese, Kazakh, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan, and Uygur. China Radio International, also headquartered in Beijing but with domestic service branches in major cities, broadcasts in 43 foreign languages and several Chinese dialects. Television service is provided by China Central Television (CCTV) in Beijing along with extensive local daily programming and Internet access by viewers to scheduling, reviews, and programming. By 2001 CCTV had 33 local affiliates, along provincial lines, with areas such as Fujian and Shanghai having two stations. China Education Television (CETV) also is used for distance learning. Cable television was reaching 114.7 million households, or about 95 percent of the population, by the end of 2004.

The government has been active in regulating newspapers in the twenty-first century. Although foreign investment in local news media was permissible by 2002, the government closed down 673 unprofitable state-run newspapers in 2003 and in 2004 banned subscription newspapers and periodicals. The major national newspaper, Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily), was established in 1948 as the main organ of the Chinese Communist Party, has a print circulation of nearly 2.2 million, and offers overseas editions and Internet access in foreign languages. Other major newspapers published in Beijing are Gongren Ribao (Workers’ Daily), Nongmin Ribao (Farmers’ Daily), Zhongguo Qingnian Bao (China Youth News), Guangming Ribao (Bright Daily), Jiefangjun Bao (Liberation Army Daily), and Zhongguo Ribao (China Daily). There are two major newspapers published outside of Beijing: Jiefang Ribao (Liberation Daily), published in Shanghai, and Nanfang Ribao (Southern Daily), published in Guangzhou. These newspapers have circulations of between 300,000 and 2.5 million and also include Internet editions. China had more than 2,000 other newspapers in publication in 2006.

China published 208, 294 books, with a total print run of 6.4 million volumes, in 2004 and printed 2,119 newspapers with a total average circulation of 190.7 million in 2003. Even more widely distributed were China’s 9,074 magazines, which in 2003 rose to an average circulation of 199 million copies and probably more since both newspapers and magazines typically are traded among multiple readers, and newspapers often are posted on community bulletin boards for passers-by.

The Ministry of Information Industry regulates access to the Internet while the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of State Security monitor its use. A broad range of topics that authorities interpret as potentially subversive or as slanderous to the state, including the dissemination of anti-unification information or “state secrets” that may endanger national security, are prohibited by various laws and regulations. Promoting “evil cults” (a term used for Falun Gong) is banned, as is providing information that “disturbs social order or undermines social stability.” Internet service providers (ISPs) are restricted to domestic media news postings and are required to record information useful for tracking users and their viewing habits, install software capable of copying e-mails, and immediately abort transmission of material considered subversive. As a result, many ISPs practice self-censorship to avoid violations of the broadly worded regulations.

Foreign Relations: At a national meeting on diplomatic work in August 2004, China’s president Hu Jintao reiterated that China will continue its “independent foreign policy of peaceful development,” stressing the need for a peaceful and stable international environment, especially among China’s neighbors, that will foster “mutually beneficial cooperation” and “common development.” This policy line has varied little in intent since the People’s Republic was established in 1949, but the rhetoric has varied in its stridency to reflect periods of domestic political upheaval.

At its inception, the People’s Republic had a close relationship with the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc nations, sealed with, among other agreements, the China-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance signed in 1950 to oppose China’s chief antagonists, the West and in particular the United States. The 1950–53 Korean War waged by China and its North Korea ally against the United States, South Korea, and United Nations (UN) forces has long been a reason for bitter feelings. By the late 1950s, relations between China and the Soviet Union had become so divisive that in 1960 the Soviets unilaterally withdrew their advisers from China. The two then began to vie for allegiances among the developing world nations, for China saw itself as a natural champion through its role in the Non-Aligned Movement and its numerous bilateral and bi-party ties. By 1969 relations with Moscow were so tense that fighting erupted along their common border. China then lessened its anti-Western rhetoric and began developing formal diplomatic relations with West European nations.

Around the same time, in 1971, that Beijing succeeded in gaining China’s seat in the UN (thus ousting the Republic of China on Taiwan), relations with the United States began to thaw. In 1973 President Richard M. Nixon visited China. Formal diplomatic relations were established in 1978, and the two nations have experienced more than a quarter century of varying degrees of amiable or wary relations over such contentious issues as Taiwan, trade balances, intellectual property rights, nuclear proliferation, and human rights. In October 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Beijing at the invitation of the minister of national defense and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, Cao Gangchuan. Cao and Rumsfeld exchanged views on regional and international issues as well as on the future development of bilateral relations between their nations and armed forces. They agreed to work toward placing military relations on a level “commensurate with the relations with the two countries”

China’s relations with its Asian neighbors have become stable during the last decades of the twentieth century. Despite a border war with India in 1962 and general distrust between the two (mostly over China’s close relationship with Pakistan and India’s with the former Soviet Union), in the early 2000s relations between the world’s two largest nations have never been more harmonious. China had long been a close ally of North Korea but also found a valuable trading partner in South Korea and eventually took a role in the early 2000s as a proponent of “six-party talks” (North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan, the United States, and China) to resolve tensions on the Korean Peninsula. On November 15, 2005, Hu Jintao visited Seoul and spoke of the importance of both countries’ contributions for regional peace and cooperation in economic development. Japan, with its large economic and cultural influences in Asia, is seen by China as its most formidable opponent and partner in regional diplomacy. The two sides established diplomatic relations in 1972, and Japanese investment in China was important in the early years of China’s economic reforms and ever since. Having fought two wars against Japan (1894–95 and 1936–45), China’s long-standing concern about the level of Japan’s military strength surfaces periodically, and criticism of Japan’s refusal to present a full version of the atrocities of World War II in its textbooks is a perennial issue. China has stable relations with its neighbors to the south. A border war was fought with one-time close ally Vietnam in 1979, but relations have improved since then. A territorial dispute with its Southeast Asian neighbors over islands in the South China Sea remains unresolved, as does another dispute in the East China Sea with Japan.

The end of the long-held animosity between Moscow and Beijing was marked by the visit to China by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989. After the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union, China’s relations with the Russian Federation and the former states of the Soviet Union became more amicable. A new round of bilateral agreements was signed during reciprocal head of state visits. As in the early 1950s with the Soviet Union, Russia has again become an important source of military matériel for China, as well as for raw materials and trade. Friendly relations with Russia have been an important advantage for China, offsetting its often uneasy relations with the United States. Relations with Europe, both Eastern and Western, generally have been friendly in the early twenty-first century, and, indeed, close political and trade relations with the European Union nations have been a major thrust of China’s foreign policy in the 2000s. In November 2005, President Hu Jintao visited the United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain and announced China’s eagerness to enter into greater political and economic cooperation with its European partners.

Although committed to good relations with the nations of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, in the twenty-first century China finds perhaps the greatest value in these areas as markets and sources of raw materials. The years of solidarity with revolutionary movements in these regions have long been replaced by efforts to cultivate normal diplomatic and economic relations.

Membership in International Organizations: China holds a permanent seat, which affords it veto power, on the Security Council of the United Nations (UN). Prior to 1971, the Republic of China on Taiwan held China’s UN seat, but, as of that date, the People’s Republic of China successfully lobbied for Taiwan’s removal from the UN and took control of the seat. China is an active member of numerous UN system organizations, including the UN General Assembly and Security Council; Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN; UN Conference on Trade and Development; UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees; UN Industrial Development Organization; UN Institute for Training and Research; UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission; and UN Truce Supervision Organization. China also holds memberships in the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (dialogue partner), Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum, Bank for International Settlements, Caribbean Development Bank, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Chamber of Commerce, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Criminal Police Organization, International Development Association, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Finance Corporation, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Hydrographic Organization, International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Olympic Committee, International Organization for Migration (observer), International Organization for Standardization, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, International Telecommunication Union, Latin American Integration Association (observer), Non-Aligned Movement (observer), Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Permanent Court of Arbitration, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Universal Postal Union, World Customs Organization, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, World Meteorological Organization, World Tourism Organization, World Trade Organization, and Zangger Committee.

Major International Treaties: The People’s Republic of China has signed numerous international conventions and treaties. Treaties signed on behalf of China before 1949 are applicable only to the Republic of China on Taiwan. Conventions signed by Beijing include: Assistance in Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency Convention; Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention; Chemical Weapons Convention; Conventional Weapons Convention; Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident Convention; Inhumane Weapons Convention; Nuclear Dumping Convention (London Convention); Nuclear Safety Convention; Physical Protection of Nuclear Material Convention; Rights of the Child and on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography Convention (signed Optional Protocol); and Status of Refugees (and the 1967 Protocol) Convention. Treaties include the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (signed but not ratified); Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous, or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (Geneva Protocol); Treaty on the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (Treaty of Pelindaba, signed protocols 1 and 2); Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; Treaty on Outer Space; Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco, signed Protocol 2); Treaty on Seabed Arms Control; and Treaty on the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone (Treaty of Rarotonga, signed and ratified protocols 2 and 3). China also is a party to the following international environmental conventions: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, and Whaling.


Armed Forces Overview: The armed forces of China are officially and collectively known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The ground forces are referred to simply as the PLA, but the navy is called the PLA Navy and the air force is known as the PLA Air Force. The PLA’s independent strategic missile forces are often referred to as the PLA Second Artillery Corps. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Military Commission sets policy for the PLA. The commission, which is chaired by China’s president, has three vice chairmen, each a general in the PLA ground forces, and seven members representing various components of the PLA. Operational control is administered dually by the CCP Central Military Commission and the State Central Military Commission and the Ministry of National Defense. PLA headquarters is organized into the General Staff Department, General Political Department, General Logistics Department, and General Armaments Department. In 2005 China announced that it downsized its military by 200,000 troops in order to optimize force structures and increase combat capabilities. The active-duty troop numbers declined to 2.3 million, compared to 3.2 million in 1987. The changes included eliminating layers in the command hierarchy, reducing noncombat units, such as schools and farms, and reprogramming officer duties. The number of ground forces was reduced by the largest margin, while the navy, air force, and Second Artillery Corps were strengthened. An estimated 1.7 million military personnel are in the ground forces, 250,000 in the navy (including 26,000 naval aviation, 10,000 marines, and 28,000 coastal defense forces), an estimated 400,000 to 420,000 in the air force, and 90,000–100,000 in the strategic missile forces. Reservists number an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 and paramilitary forces in the People’s Armed Police an estimated 1.5 million.

The Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China is constitutionally different from the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party. According to Article 93 of the state constitution, the state Central Military Commission directs the armed forces of the country and is composed of a chairman (currently Hu Jintao since June 2004), vice chairmen, and members whose terms run concurrently with the National People’s Congress. The commission is responsible to the NPC and its Standing Committee.

Foreign Military Relations: China sold US$800 million worth of arms and military equipment to a variety of nations in 2002, making it the world’s fifth largest arms supplier after the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, and France. Among its principal clients have been Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Yemen. China also provides military assistance to other countries, such as Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, and Vanuatu. The China North Industries Group Corporation (CNGC, often called NORINCO), China’s main defense producer, has some 100 joint ventures and more than 80 overseas offices and branches in 30 countries and regions involved in military and dual-use technology production and sales. Further, China is also a major arms buyer, mostly naval and air force equipment from Russia. In 2004 China gave unprecedented access to senior foreign military officers at a military demonstration in Henan Province. Officers from 15 Asian nations and Russia were present. In 2005 China and Russia held joint eight-day “Peace Mission 2005" military maneuvers near Vladisvostok and in Shandong Province and nearby waters. Air, land, and amphibious exercises were held.

China is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a joint effort with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The SCO was established as the Shanghai Five when the partners signed agreements on strengthening mutual trust in military fields in border areas in 1996 and on mutual reduction of military forces in border areas in 1997. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and the entry of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces into Central Asia, the SCO was formed and members began to hold joint counterterrorism military exercises. In 2004 the SCO initiated a regional antiterrorism structure to crack down on various transnational terrorist and criminal activities. China also has held joint naval and counterterrorism exercises with Pakistan. The naval exercise, which occurred in the East China Sea, was the first such drill with a foreign counterpart, as Chinese sources put it, “in a non-traditional security field.” The antiterrorism exercise, which was held in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, involved border guards from both sides.

External Threat: Even while embroiled in the problems of territorial disputes with its neighbors and the dangers of periodic tensions on the Korean Peninsula and across the Taiwan Strait, China perceives the United States as its major threat. Beijing believes that the United States still maintains its Cold War policy toward China and the Asia-Pacific region and stresses ideological differences and their relationship to security issues of concern in the region. In China’s view, Washington’s attitude exacerbates tensions, which, in turn, lead to international turmoil. Post-Soviet Russia is now fairly benign in China’s view, and relations have improved significantly from the days of border conflicts and high-level tension. Concerns about the remilitarization of Japan also resurface on occasion, often as a legacy of World War II enmity. Transnational crime, terrorism, separatism, and contradictions among nations all contribute to China’s security concerns.

Defense Budget: Although China claims that the share of defense spending as a percentage of the overall state budget has declined from 17.4 percent in 1979 to 9.5 percent in 1994 and 7.7 percent in 2004, the government has announced double-digit increases in military spending nearly every year for more than a decade. The defense budget for 2006 is expected to reach US$35.1 billion, the largest increase in four years and 16 percent higher than 2005 (estimated at US$29.5 billion). The report submitted in March 2006 at the Fourth Session of the 10th National People’s Congress (NPC) contained a request for a budget increase to strengthen China’s defensive capability and ability to respond to emergencies and to raise officer and enlisted pay levels. The NPC stated that China’s military spending is still low compared to the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Japan. However, the actual defense budget is likely to be higher than expected because of the inclusion of defense-related items in nondefense budgets.

Major Military Units: The ground forces are organized into seven military regions (headquartered in Shenyang in the northeast, Beijing in the north, Lanzhou in the west, Chengdu in the southwest, Guangzhou in the south, Jinan in central China, and Nanjing in the east), 28 provincial military districts, four centrally controlled garrison commands (coinciding with the centrally administered municipalities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing), and 21 integrated group armies. The group armies have strengths between 30,000 and 65,000 troops. Each group army typically has two or three infantry divisions, one armored division or brigade, one artillery division or brigade, and one joint surface-to-air missile or antiaircraft artillery brigade or simply an antiaircraft artillery brigade.

The navy is organized into North Sea (headquartered at Qingdao, Shandong Province), East Sea (headquartered at Ningbo, Zhejiang Province), and South Sea (headquartered at Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province) fleets. Each fleet has destroyer, submarine, and coastal patrol flotillas, possibly even amphibious flotillas, and naval air stations. There are numerous major naval bases: the North Sea Fleet has seven, the East Sea Fleet eight, and the South Sea Fleet 16.

The air force has five air corps and 32 air divisions. The major air force headquarters coincide with the seven military regions. The air force has more than 140 air bases and airfields, including ready access to China’s major regional and international airports.

The strategic missile forces, or Second Artillery Corps, are organized into seven missile divisions based in the military regions, with the central headquarters at Qinghe, north of Beijing. There also are training and testing bases. The six operational bases had some 21 launch brigades in 2005.

Major Military Equipment: The major ground forces equipment includes an estimated 7,000 main battle tanks, 1,200 light tanks, 5,000 armored personnel carriers, 14,000 pieces of towed artillery, 1,700 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 2,400 multiple-rocket launchers, 7,700 air defense guns, 6,500 antitank guided weapons, and unspecified numbers of mortars, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, recoilless rifles, rocket launchers, and antitank guns. The ground forces also have an estimated 321 helicopters and an unspecified number of unmanned air vehicles and surveillance aircraft.

Among its principal combatant ships, the navy has 68 submarines (many of which are slated for decommissioning in the mid-2000s). One is a Xia class submarine-launched ballistic missile (SSBN) force strategic-capability submarine. There are plans for more advanced SSBNs by the end of the decade. The navy also has an estimated 21 destroyers and 42 frigates, as well as 368 fast-attack craft, 39 mine warfare ships, 10 hovercraft, 6 troop transports, 19 landing-ship/tank ships, 37 medium landing ships, 45 utility landing craft, 10 air-cushioned landing craft, 163 support and miscellaneous craft, 8 submarine support ships, 4 salvage and repair ships, 29 supply ships, 1 multirole aviation ship, and about 700 land-based combat aircraft and 45 armed helicopters. China also has plans to launch a 40,000-ton aircraft carrier by 2010.

The air force has some 1,900 combat aircraft, including armed helicopters. The inventory includes 180 bombers, more than 950 fighters and 838 ground attack fighters, an estimated 290 reconnaissance/electronic intelligence aircraft, an estimated 513 transports, an estimated 170 helicopters, some 200 training aircraft, and an unmanned aerial vehicle. Weapons include air-to-air missiles and ground-based air defense artillery using surface-to-air missiles and antiaircraft artillery.

The strategic missile forces have in their inventory 20 or more intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), between 130 and 150 intermediate-range ballistic missiles, one Xia class submarine carrying 12 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and about 335 or more short-range ballistic missiles.

Military Service: There is selective conscription of two years for all the services starting at age 18 for males. In 2004 there were some 136,000 women in the armed forces.

Paramilitary Forces: The principal paramilitary organization is the People’s Armed Police Force. There are militia forces of indeterminate strength under the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Once a critical part of Mao Zedong’s “people’s war” strategy, militia units are no longer an essential part of China’s military and have mostly disbanded.

Military Forces Abroad: In 2004 China deployed 95 riot police officers as part of a 125-member unit to Haiti for the United Nations (UN) Stabilization Mission in Haiti, a nation with which Beijing does not have diplomatic relations. As of that time, China had deployed 297 peacekeepers to five other nations, including East Timor, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Liberia, Afghanistan, and the autonomous province of Kosovo in Serbia and Montenegro. China also has sent peacekeeping observers to Ethiopia and Eritrea, various Middle Eastern countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and Western Sahara. It is a formal participant in the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN Mission in Sierra Leone, UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and UN Mission in Liberia.

Police and Internal Security: The security apparatus is made up of the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security, the People’s Armed Police, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the state judicial, procuratorial, and penal systems. The Ministry of Public Security oversees all domestic police activity in China, including the People’s Armed Police Force. The ministry is responsible for police operations and prisons and has dedicated departments for internal political, economic, and communications security. Its lowest organizational units are public security stations, which maintain close day-to-day contact with the public. The People’s Armed Police Force, which sustains an estimated total strength of 1.5 million personnel, is organized into 45 divisions: internal security police, border defense personnel, guards for government buildings and embassies, and police communications specialists.

The Ministry of State Security was established in 1983 to ensure “the security of the state through effective measures against enemy agents, spies, and counterrevolutionary activities designed to sabotage or overthrow China’s socialist system.” The ministry is guided by a series of laws enacted in 1993, 1994, and 1997 that replaced the “counterrevolutionary” crime statutes. The ministry’s operations include intelligence collection, both domestic and foreign. Authorities have used arrests on charges of revealing state secrets, subversion, and common crimes to suppress political dissent and social advocacy.

Internal Threat and Terrorism: Although the government defines the outlawed Falun Gong movement as the major internal threat and the People’s Armed Police Force actively pursues its members, Falun Gong is, nevertheless, not classified as a terrorist group, and it has not committed or sponsored acts of violence. Muslim separatists in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region present China with its most significant terrorist threat, which emerged in the late 1980s. In 2003 Beijing published an “East Turkistan Terrorist List,” which labeled organizations such as the World Uighur Youth Congress and the East Turkistan Information Center as terrorist entities. These groups openly advocate independence for “East Turkestan,” and, although they have not been publicly linked to violent activity, the separatists have resorted to violence, bomb attacks, assassinations, and street fighting, which Beijing responds to with police and military action. During the summer of 2004, elite troops from China and Pakistan held joint antiterrorism exercises in Xinjiang that were aimed at the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, an organization listed as terrorist by China, the United States, and the United Nations (UN). This and other Uygur separatist groups reputedly were trained in Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban and al Qaeda. The East Turkistan Islamic Movement was established in 1990 and has links to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which operates throughout Central Asia. Premier Wen Jiabao joined leaders of other Asian and European nations in Hanoi for the October 2004 Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Hanoi, where the delegates reaffirmed their call for a war on terrorism led by the UN.

Human Rights: Article 34 of China’s constitution states that the “state respects and guarantees human rights” and that “every citizen is entitled to the rights and at the same time must perform the duties prescribed by the constitution and the law.” The following article guarantees “freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Compared to the earlier years of stringent rule by the Maoist regime, China’s citizens enjoy a much wider range of human rights and basic exercise of their constitutional freedoms. Although tightly regulated, the mass media are relatively more freewheeling than in the past. Economic reforms have brought a new measure of individual expression and great wealth and influence for some. Police reports from China indicate that the number and size of public protests have multiplied rapidly since the early 1990s and that such protests are now counted in the tens of thousands. For example, police recorded 32,000 protests in 1999 alone. According to later official statistics, however, “public order disturbances” were much lower, reportedly only 87 during 2005, a 6.6 percent increase from 2004. However, the Ministry of Public Security claimed that incidents described as mob violence also rose by 13 percent over 2004, and the number of demonstrations continued to grow as protesters became more organized during the year.

However, citizens cannot express opposition to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-led political system and do not have the right to change their national leaders or form of government. Socialism is still the theoretical basis of national politics and although Marxist economic planning gave way to pragmatism, economic decentralization has merely increased the authority of local officials. The party’s authority rests primarily on the government’s ability to maintain social stability through appeals to nationalism and patriotism; party control of personnel, media, and the security apparatus; and continued improvement of living standards. Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, in practice the government and the CCP, at both the central and local levels, frequently intercede in the judicial process and direct verdicts in many high-profile cases. While the number of religious believers in China continues to increase, governmental respect for religious freedom has remained poor. The government, which regulates, manages, and controls the broadcast media, has censored foreign broadcasts, at times jamming radio signals from abroad. In 2003 some publications were closed and otherwise disciplined for publishing material deemed objectionable by the government, and journalists, authors, academics, and researchers were reportedly harassed, detained, and arrested by the authorities.

Under party guidance, civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces, but according to data provided by the U.S. Department of State, security personnel are responsible for numerous human rights abuses. Despite the growing number of protests that have occurred in China and continued legal reforms, in 2003 arrests continually took place of individuals discussing sensitive subjects on the Internet and of health activists, labor protesters, defense lawyers, journalists, underground church members, and others seeking to take advantage of the government-fostered reforms. Abuses of the judicial system included instances of extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy incommunicado detention, and denial of due process. In the same year, more than 250,000 persons were incarcerated in “reeducation-through-labor” camps under sentences not subject to judicial review. Moreover, some 500 to 600 individuals were serving out sentences for the now-repealed crime of counterrevolution, and an estimated 2,000 persons remained in prison in 2003 for their activities during the June 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations, which were violently suppressed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China has active human rights dialogues with numerous countries, including Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as with the European Union.

The U.S. Department of State also reported several positive human rights developments during 2005. The government returned authority to approve death sentences to the Supreme People’s Court, supported local experiments to record police interrogation of suspects, and limited the administrative detention of minors, the elderly, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. In March 2005, government officials stated that family bible studies in private homes need not be registered with the government and permitted the religious education of minors. However, problems continued in both areas. The National People’s Congress adopted amendments to the law protecting woman’s rights and interests, including one outlawing sexual harassment. The government ratified International Labour Organization Convention 111 prohibiting discrimination in employment and also hosted visits by international human rights monitors.

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