The command and control of the People's Liberation Army (Chinese armed forces) is exercised in name by the 'state CMC', supervised by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. The state CMC is nominally considered the supreme military policy-making body and its chairman, elected by the National People's Congress, is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. In reality, command and control of the PLA, however, still resides with the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee—the 'party CMC'.
Both commissions are identical in membership, thus actually forming one identical institution under two different names in order to fit in both state government and party systems. Both commissions are currently chaired by President Hu Jintao. The 11-man commission issues directives relating to the PLA, including senior appointments, troop deployments and arms spending. Almost all the members are senior generals, but the most important posts have always been held by the party's most senior leaders.
The CMC is housed in the Ministry of National Defense compound ("August 1st Building") in western Beijing.
The most important chain of command runs from the CMC to the four General Headquarters (General Staff Department, General Political Department, General Logistic Department, General Armament Department) and, in turn, to each of the service branches (ground, navy and air forces) and military regions. In addition, the CMC also has direct control over the Second Artillery Corps (strategic missile force), the National Defense University, and the Academy of Military Science. As stipulated in the 1997 National Defense Law, the CMC also has ostensible command authority over the paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP), although the CMC’s command authority is shared with the Ministry of Public Security of the State Council.
Although in theory the CMC has the highest military command authority, in reality the ultimate decision making power concerning war, armed forces, and national defense resides with the Communist Party’s Politburo. The CMC is usually chaired by the Chinese President, who is supported by two to three Vice Chairmen, including the Minister of National Defense. Members of the CMC normally includes the Directors of the PLA’s Four General Headquarters and the Commander of the Air Force, Navy, and Second Artillery.
The Chairman of the CMC was twice in its history held by a senior official who had given up his other posts, as in the case of Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. In the case of Deng Xiaoping, because of his prestige, he was able to exercise considerable power after his retirement, in part from his position as CMC Chairman. There was speculation that Jiang Zemin would be able to retain similar authority after his retirement from the positions of General Secretary and President, but this does not appear to be the case. One major factor is that in contrast to Deng Xiaoping, who always had close relations with the People's Liberation Army, Jiang had no military background. In addition, with the promotion of the fourth generation of Chinese leaders to lead the civilian party, there was also a corresponding promotion of military leaders. All the military members of the CMC come from Hu Jintao's generation rather than from Jiang's, and at the time of the leadership transition, there appeared some very sharp editorials from military officers suggesting that the military would have strong objections to Jiang attempting to exercise power behind the scenes. Jiang Zemin retired from his post as Chairman of the party's Central Military Commission in September 2004 to Hu Jintao, and from the state's in March 2005, solidifying Hu's position as paramount leader.
In China's state-party-military tripartite political system, the CMC itself is a decision-making body whose day-to-day affairs are not nearly as transparent as that of the Central Committee or the State Council. As one of China's three main decision making bodies the relative influence of the CMC can vary depending on the time period and the leaders. In the event of war or political crisis, for example, the CMC may well function as a de facto executive for the country's daily affairs.
The Tiananmen Protests of 1989 illustrates how the Central Military Commission functions. CMC Chairman Deng Xiaoping proposed the imposition martial law and the use of armed soldiers to suppress unarmed demonstrations in Beijing. Under the constitution of the Chinese Communist Party, the CMC is subordinate to the Politburo. Three members of the Politburo Standing Committee voted for martial law while two, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and President Yang Shangkun, voted against it.
Similarly, the State CMC is nominally elected by the National People's Congress and theoretically reports to the Congress, but is in practice indistinguishable from the CCP CMC. This difference in elections also results in the only difference in membership between the two bodies, as party organs, such as the party congress and the Central Committee assemble at different times than the National People's Congress. For example, some were elected into the party CMC in the Sixteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China in November 2002, but they entered the state CMC in March 2003, when the 10th National People's Congress convened.
The members are generally uniformed military commanders, except for the chairman and first vice-chairman, both taken from the Politburo in recent years. The military members are generally members of neither the Politburo Standing Committee nor the State Council outside of the Minister of National Defense, although they all tend to be members of the Communist Party and are members of the Central Committee. The military members are apparently chosen with regular promotion procedures from within the PLA.
As of March 2008:
The General Staff Department is the nerve center of the entire Chinese military command and control system, responsible for daily administrative duties of the CMC. The General Office processes all CMC communications and documents, coordinate meetings, and convey orders and directives to other subordinate organs.