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The commission chairman by default is the civilian general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping. Gen. Xu is unique as the first commission vice chairman from the air force.

The general spoke at a May 2 leadership conference on developing China’s impoverished West, which has been viewed by the Chinese high command for decades as the country’s strategic depth in future wars.

Many of China’s large development drives are motivated by military considerations. Since the early 1960s, China has envisioned future warfare involving weapons of mass destruction and an enemy described in military writings as a world superpower.

As a result, China’s more advanced eastern seaboard presumably will be lost during the early phase of a conflict to the enemy. But western China will serve as China’s strategic rear area where counterattacks would be organized.

Driven by such thinking, China built elaborate networks of bunkers, military railways, nuclear-weapons depots and other defense infrastructure in the western and southwestern provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the 1990s, for the same purpose, China eyed the country’s far west region of Tibet and Xinjiang, primarily inhabited by ethnic Tibetans and Uighurs. Since then, China’s defense development programs in these regions have helped intensify ethnic tensions and drive the government’s expenditure on internal security and frequent domestic crackdowns so high that spending on internal security forces surpassed the entire defense budget, which is already the world’s second-largest.

China maintains a large armed police force that is under the Chinese Defense Ministry.

However, the armed police can hardly distinguish themselves from the regular army troops in crises, because they both serve the interest of the Communist Party in maintaining a power monopoly. When a large civil disobedience and political demonstration occurs, it is always the soldiers — armed with tanks, helicopters and machines guns — who are deployed to do the crackdowns and killings, as they died in the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @yu_miles.