In recent years, the U.S. Navy has been dealing with challenges to high-seas and freedom-of-navigation rights from China. In 2018, the Chinese destroyer Lanzhou nearly collided with the USS Decatur (DDG-73) during her freedom-of-navigation transit of the South China Sea. But this was not an isolated incident. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has created other tense situations by following and maneuvering against U.S. warships operating in the East and South China Seas.
If the U.S. Navy is to continue operating with maximum effectiveness in carrying out its rights on the seas, it must have a deeper understanding of the PLAN’s tactical planning and decision-making. Unlike the U.S. Navy, the PLAN has political commissars assigned to its ships and submarines—their role in naval operations carefully veiled.
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2. “Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun zhengzhi gongzuo tiaoli” [People’s Liberation Army Political Work Regulations].
3. “Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun zhengzhi gongzuo tiaoli” [People’s Liberation Army Political Work Regulations].
4. For example, after intercepting South Vietnamese communications on the plan to seize Duncan Island on 19 January 1974, the PLAN South Sea Fleet held an emergency operations planning session, with the Fleet Political Commissar Duan Dezhang in participation. See: Zhaoxin Li, “Wo qinli de xisha haizhan” [My Personal Experience during the Paracel Islands Battle], China through the Ages, www.yhcqw.com/34/10118.html.
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6. Xiaorong Hong and Wei Li, “Zaijian, nanchongjian: huishou ‘laobing’ 44 nian suiyue” [Farewell, Nanchong. Looking Back on 44 Years of Service], China Military Online, 16 September 2013, www.81.cn/hj/2013-09/16/content_5502398_3.htm.
7. Wei Li and Canhong Zheng, “Nanbu zhanqu haijun mou zhidui jintie shizhan zuzhi zhengzhi gongzuo ganbu gangwei kaohe” [Flotilla of Southern Theater Command Navy Tests Political Work Cadres under Real War Conditions], Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, 11 June 2019, www.mod.gov.cn/power/2019-06/11/content_4843372.htm.
8. Rongrong Zhang et al., “Junzheng jietong, zhanji heyi—zhezhi qianting budui de zhenggong ganbu xiang dangdang!” [Well-Versed in Military and Political Affairs, Skilled in War and Politics—the Political Commissars of This Submarine Unit Are Very Impressive!], Sina News, 11 November 2017, www.mil.news.sina.com.cn/2017-11-11/doc-ifynsait7186735.shtml.
9. Yanxiang Wang and Guoquan Chen, “Hei, zhege feixing xunlian zhihuiyuan shi zhengwei” [Hey! The Flight Training Commander Is the Political Commissar], People’s Liberation Army Online, 26 January 2019, www.81.cn/jfjbmap/content/2019-01/26/content_226220.htm.
10. Andreas Rupprecht, Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Naval Aviation— Combat Aircraft and Units (Harpia Publishing, 2018), 26–29; and Yi Lu, “Zhongguo haijun shoushe ‘zhenggong zhanwei’ zhengwei suiji genfei” [Chinese Navy Establishes ‘Political Work Station’ for the First Time, Political Commissars Join Flight Missions], People’s Liberation Army Online, 21 October 2014, www.81.cn/hj/2014-10/21/content_6189154.htm.
11. Jeffrey Becker, David Liebenberg, and Peter Mackenzie, Behind the Periscope: Leadership in China’s Navy (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, December 2013), 60, www.cna.org/CNA_files/PDF/CRM-2013-U-006467-Final.pdf.
12. Office of Naval Intelligence, China’s Navy 2007 (Washington, DC: 2007), 1, https://fas.org/irp/agency/oni/chinanavy2007.pdf.
13. “Xi Encourages China’s Navy Soldiers to Commit to Training,” China Global Television Network, 2018, 2:47, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F0kXbPR65w.
14. Kenneth Allen, interview with Jeff Benson, Washington, DC, 21 February 2020.
15. Section 3, “Organization and Implementation of Wartime Political Work” (2006), author’s copy.
16. Becker, Liebenberg, and Mackenzie, Behind the Periscope, 56.
17. “Zhongguo Renmin Jiefangjun Zhengzhi Gongzuo Tiaoli” [People’s Liberation Army Political Work Regulations], 23.
18. Jinlong Shen and Qin Shengxiang, “Renmin haijun: yangfan fenjin 70 nian” [People’s Navy: 70 Years of Advancement], qsthery.cn, August 2019, www.qstheory.cn/dukan/qs/2019-04/16/c_1124364140.htm.
Authors’ Note: This article is adapted from the Center for Strategic and International Studies report, Party on the Bridge: Political Commissars in the Chinese Navy.