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Understanding China’s Space Leading Small Groups— The Best Way to Determine the PLA’s Influence

  • Published
  • China Aerospace Studies Institute

This research reviews two of China’s space Leading Small Groups (LSGs):  the China Manned Space Engineering (CMSE) LSG and the China Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) LSG.  The intention of this report is to show that understanding the history and current composition of the LSGs is the best way to answer the question, “How much control does the PLA have in a particular Chinese space program?”.  LSGs are a well-known Chinese institutional mechanism amongst China policy wonks, but LSGs are rarely discussed in the space watcher literature.  Recent attempts by European and British researchers have included only the historical references.  This report explains LSGs and their leadership, then provides a deep dive into the CMSE LSG and the CLEP LSG.

There are two key takeaways.  First is that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP or Party) controls space programs by appointing an organization to lead key programmatic decision-making.  For CMSE and CLEP, the CCP appointed the State Council, not the Central Military Commission (CMC).  The State Council manages CMSE and CLEP usually through LSGs, the leader of which the State Council decides based on the organization that manages the most subsystems.  The LSG leader then reports progress to the State Council, regardless of his or her parent organization.  Second is that the CMSE LSG leader is a deputy of the CLEP LSG leader, and vice versa, and both LSG leaders are regularly equally ranked across the government, military, and Party.

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