There is another ‘Actual Combat’ in the CMC’s dual approach, which has regularly come in the national news during the past year. It is the resolute fight against corruption, at all the levels of the PLA. In December 2014, The PLA Daily announced that there will be no escape for the corrupt in the Chinese defence forces. Quoting the flagship newspaper of the PLA, Xinhua commented, “…in the battle against corruption, there will be no privilege or sanctuary of impunity for anyone.” The PLA strongly denied that “continuing the campaign against corruption could destabilise people’s morale and public trust.”
On the contrary, it asserted that the campaign would continue, “The battle against corruption has entered a crucial tug-of-war stage; the anti-graft campaign is in line with the people’s expectations and as the campaign deepens…the Communist Party of China (CPC) and political environment in China will become even healthier. The anti-corruption efforts will only boost the morale among the Party, the military and the public, not undermine it.”
President Xi Jinping knows very well that the question is not to fix one or two adversaries…
A Dual Move
Year 2014 saw a dual move by the senior Chinese leadership, particularly China’s Central Military Commission (CMC). While the leadership tried to take head on the rampant corruption in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the official catchphrase for the year has been ‘Actual Combat’. A few days before the end of 2014, China Military Online commented, “If we have to summarise China’s military exercises in 2014 with one sentence, it would be ‘the moment to shift from quantitative to qualitative changes has arrived’.”
Military exercises have indeed been an important part of the PLA’s preparedness. The military website explains, “An overall review to the military exercises of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2014 shows that all units worked hard on actual combat trainings with at least three aspects worthy of special commendation.” First, says the website, all the battlefields were organised to resemble actual combat theatres. Then, exercises were designed to simulate actual combats, ‘training for observation’ became ‘training for fighting’; the exercises were designed the way a same way a war is actually fought. Finally, the training equipment provided resembled the equipment used in real combats, “Such back-to-back confrontations more vividly imitated the elements of actual combat and were used as an important approach to comprehensively test the troop’s combat capability.” The objective of these exercises was to make the troops able to ‘fight and win battles’; at the end of the exercises, review and self-criticism were “an inevitable procedure”, says the military publication.
Another Combat: Against Corruption
But there is another ‘Actual Combat’ in the CMC’s dual approach, which has regularly come in the national news during the past year. It is the resolute fight against corruption, at all the levels of the PLA. In December 2014, The PLA Daily announced that there will be no escape for the corrupt in the Chinese defence forces. Quoting the flagship newspaper of the PLA, Xinhua commented, “…in the battle against corruption, there will be no privilege or sanctuary of impunity for anyone.” The PLA strongly denied that “continuing the campaign against corruption could destabilise people’s morale and public trust.” On the contrary, it asserted that the campaign would continue, “The battle against corruption has entered a crucial tug-of-war stage; the anti-graft campaign is in line with the people’s expectations and as the campaign deepens…the Communist Party of China (CPC) and political environment in China will become even healthier. The anti-corruption efforts will only boost the morale among the Party, the military and the public, not undermine it.”
The leadership is aware that corruption is seriously threatening to limit the PLA’s operational capabilities…
The message is clear – the cleansing campaign in the PLA is here to stay. Moreover, in the current battle, there cannot be any safe haven for anyone, says the Daily. Bill Bishop, the author of the The Sinocism China Newsletter argued that it is not a usual purge campaign, “I am quite convinced it is a mistake to call the corruption crackdown under Xi a ‘campaign’. …I think people have been far too dismissive of some of the changes Wang Qishan [Politburo’s Standing Committee member] is making within the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) system. …Xi and Wang are less than 24 months into this and cannot hit everything at once, especially as Xi is still consolidating power. It may fail, but the crackdown is already much deeper and longer than almost anyone expected, and the signs are that it is intensifying, not slowing, and looks to be still in its early days inside the PLA.” The battle has indeed intensified; the Xinhua piece noted “the anti-decadence movement is still grave and complicated and will inevitably meet some kind of resistance.”
President Xi Jinping knows very well that the question is not to fix one or two adversaries, such as Bo Xilai or Zhou Yongkang, the former Chongqing Party boss and security Tsar respectively; the present move has to go much deeper, if the CPC is to survive. Many historical studies have shown that it is the crucial issue which triggered the collapse of the former Soviet Union. What we are witnessing today is the final struggle for survival of a system. It is particularly vital for the defence forces. Whether Xi and Wang will succeed or not is another issue. In the meantime, The PLA Daily threatens, “The anti-corruption campaign has already touched senior ‘tigers’ like Zhou Yongkang and Xu Caihou; who will be left untouchable?”
According to Xinhua, the CMC has issued a document, ratified by its Chairman, Xi Jinping, about building a command loyal to the Party and good at combat. Clearly the two ‘Combats’ are going on hand-in-hand. In his recent monthly briefing, Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Yang Yujun stated, “In terms of the anti-corruption campaign in the military, no matter who is concerned or how high his position is, we will find him and conduct the proper punishment without tolerance for any corruption.”
The Chinese media compared the PLA to a ‘Great Wall made of iron and steel’… al capabilities…
After the conclusion of a first inspection round of the seven Military Area Commands (MACs), the CMC announced enhanced efforts to combat graft, “A slew of important problems and clues have been found since the inspection tour was launched in December 2013,” admitted the CMC. The Chinese media highlighted the unprecedented amounts of money embezzled by some ‘big tigers’ and spoke about the “auctioning of key posts to embezzlement in construction projects and the open trade of power for money.” Xinhua argued that if China’s top leadership wants to root out corruption from all walks of life, it is necessary to remove the black sheep from the military first, “…because it can destroy military personnel’s sense of unity and ruin their faith in their career. If generals fill their pockets with embezzled money while ordinary soldiers sleep in ill-constructed camps, who will fight for the country when needed? And if officers paying bribes get promoted and the hard-working ones are sidelined, how many soldiers will remain devoted and loyal to the PLA?”
The Chinese media compared the PLA to a ‘Great Wall made of iron and steel’ explaining that the current drive is aimed at ‘removing the rust from the surface of this Great Wall’ and taking measures to ensure that it remains rust-free forever. The leadership is aware that corruption is seriously threatening to limit the PLA’s operational capabilities. It is why it has become Xi Jinping’s personal ‘combat’.
General Xu Caihou, the Big Tiger
General Xu Caihou was CMC’s Vice-Chairman when he retired in 2013; he was the senior-most uniformed defence officer in the Chinese military hierarchy. He has now been booked as one of the the main culprits (i.e. tiger).
Chairman Xi is fully aware that ‘this style of work’ is not conducive to defend China’s borders
In October 2014, Xu Caihou, confessed to “accepting huge bribes and taking advantage of his position to assist the promotion of other people” (read senior generals). He has become the highest profile figure in China’s military to be caught up in the ‘Combat’. Uncharacteristically, The PLA Daily used harsh words against General Xu; he is called a ‘double-dealer’, adding that he is “good at disguising his dirty soul and ugly behavior. …Some of them [senior officers] deceive their superiors and delude their subordinates, while some talk one way and behave in another.”
On October 27, after finishing the investigation into Xu’s double-dealings, prosecutors asserted that the amount of bribes taken by Xu was ‘extremely high’. It probably means that several senior generals in the PLA’s four services and seven MACs have got their appointment through foul means. It speaks a great deal of the ‘combat’ preparedness of the Chinese Defence forces. Chairman Xi has decided to remedy this. Reuters wrote about the generals’ modus operandi; how Xu Caihou and his assistant Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan worked, “Luxury cars filled with gold bars were given away as bribes by a former senior military officer implicated in a graft case investigators say involves 30 billion yuan ($5 billion).” Gu Junshan, who was Deputy Director of the PLA’s logistics department, is now suspected of having ‘offered’ hundreds of military positions on behalf of his boss.
Quoting the Phoenix Weekly, a magazine with close ties with the Central government, Reuters says, “Sources close to the top of the logistics department said Gu took bribes worth about 600 million yuan ($100 million) in return for his part in a scam involving a total of 30 billion yuan.” General Gu was apparently obsessed with gold, especially gold statues of Buddha. The magazine found out that when he wanted to offer a gift, Gu would load up a Mercedes with gold bars and then simply send the car keys to the beneficiary; up to 100kg of gold could be ‘offered’ that way. If some Generals ‘contributed’ to Xu’s and Gu’s schemes, it means that they had ways to recover their ‘investment’. According to the Chinese press, Gu’s and Xu’s cases are closely connected.
The PLA has recently witnessed a wave of suicides linked to corruption…
Another General under investigation is Maj. Gen. Dai Weimin, Vice-President of the PLA Nanjing Institute of Politics. Caixin, the Beijing-based financial publication said that Dai was detained around mid-November for allegations related to malpractices connected to land and infrastructure projects at the Institute’s Shanghai campus. According to the same publication, housing and infrastructure contracts are the most common areas where ‘gifts’ take place.
While recently inspecting the Nanjing Military Area Command [see box], Xi Jinping warned that the PLA should ‘fully clear up the bad influence left [by Xu] in the army’s ideological, political and organisational work as well as the style of work.” Chairman Xi is fully aware that ‘this style of work’ is not conducive to defend China’s borders; he will do everything to change the current state of affairs. While naming Xu and Gu, Xi said, “Officers and soldiers should firmly follow the command of the CMC at any time and under any circumstances.” ‘Follow the Party’ has become the recurring motto! But can the Party survive its rot? It is too early to say.
Chairman Xi’s Military Thoughts
During a visit to the headquarters of Nanjing’s Military Area Command, Xi Jinping, Chairman of the Central Military Commission called upon the PLA to focus on meeting the goals of building a strong army and raising the levels of military management …with strict military discipline.
Xi shared his thoughts on the military with the MAC’s senior officers: