The Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee focused on deepening China’s economic and political reform. Among the long list of “to-dos” released after the meeting, the most concrete, and perhaps the most eye-catching, is the establishment of a State Security Committee (SSC). Widely perceived to be the Chinese version of the National Security Council (NSC) of the United States, its creation will have profound implications for China’s foreign and security policies.
Establishment of the state security committee ends the 10+ year debate on whether China should have a national security council. China’s national security decision-making authority is centralized at the top: the National Security Leading Small Group (NSLSG), comprised of senior leaders and the heads of key government line agencies, is designed to supervise and coordinate the country’s national security affairs. The NSLSG is similar to the NSC in that both are interagency coordination forums serving the top leaders. Unlike the NSC, however, the NSLSG is an ad hoc committee without a regular meeting schedule or fixed participants. More importantly, rather than an active administrator of national security affairs like the NSC, the NSLSG is a reactive mechanism for crisis management.
As China expands its global economic and political reach, the country faces increasingly complicated security problems as well as difficulties managing a growing number of foreign policy actors. The costs of not having an institution dedicated to the making and coordination of national security policy has become clear, leading to the proposal to establish a National Security Council. In the early 2000s, outgoing president Jiang Zemin reportedly made the most concrete attempt in that direction: it was aborted as it was perceived to be Jiang’s effort to retain influence after his retirement in 2002.
The Third Plenum decision to establish a state security committee is significant for several reasons. Politically, its creation suggests President Xi Jinping is aggressively strengthening his control over foreign and security affairs. Procedurally, the committee would presumably serve as the designer, supervisor, and coordinator of China’s national security policies, streamlining and regularizing national security decision-making and policy consultation processes. Bureaucratically, the expected senior rank of the committee should help rein in actors whose narrow agency interests frequently undermined the country’s broader national interest.
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