Earlier this week China announced it was forming a new committee on security. The announcement came at the close of the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The plenum, a three-day meeting of the committee that convened in Beijing on 9 November, was expected to announce a new set of programs and policies focused on domestic governance and economic reform.
The New York Times reported there are “experts” who believe China’s new security committee “took inspiration from the National Security Council that serves American presidents.” Perhaps. But the language of the communiqué announcing its creation is clearly focused on internal security, not national defense.
The plenum proposes innovative social administration must be focused on protecting the fundamental interests of the large majority of the people, must, to the greatest degree possible, increase harmonious factors, strengthen the vitality of social development, raise the level of social administration, protect state security, insure that the people live and work in peace and contentment and that society is stable and ordered. (We) will improve the methods of social administration, stimulate the vitality of social organizations, create a system to effectively prevent and resolve social contradictions and strengthen the public security system. (We) will establish a State Security Committee, perfect the state security system and state security strategy and guarantee state security.”
It should be noted that choosing the word “national” over “state” in the translation of this particular passage in the plenum’s communiqué—a legitimate choice for a translator— could leave English-speaking readers with a dramatically different impression, especially if the final sentence were presented out of context.
“(We) will establish a National Security Committee, perfect the national security system and national security strategy and guarantee national security.”
Using the word “national” instead of “state” can make it appear the new committee will focus on external rather than internal threats to Chinese security.
At a press conference after the announcement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry indicated China’s new security committee was directed at three groups: “terrorists,” “separatists” and “extremists.” Shortly before the plenum a bomb exploded near the CCP headquarters in Shanxi province. The explosion followed an apparent suicide attack in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The CCP’s decision to establish the new committee could be a response to perceived shortcomings in China’s internal security system, which failed to prevent these two incidents. A Chinese general from the Xinjiang military region was dismissed from a local CCP post shortly after the car crash in Tiananmen Square. “Separatists” from the region are alleged to be behind that apparent suicide attack.
While there are links between domestic and international security in every nation, China’s security concerns, and the systems and procedures it uses to cope with them, are radically different than those of the United States. Foreign experts need to exercise considerable caution when comparing the two. In this case, it seems highly unlikely that China’s new security committee is modeled after the U.S. National Security Council or that it will perform comparable functions for China’s new president.