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:
The First Female General Caught
The same Caixin.com announced that the first female ‘tiger’ was under investigation, suspected of bribery. Before her arrest, Maj. Gen. Gao Xiaoyan used to be a Political Commissar and CCDI’s representative at the PLA Information Engineering University. She is suspected of taking big amounts while serving as Political Commissar at the PLA’s 309th Hospital from 2005 to 2012. Some rumours said that she was intimately close to Gu Junshan. A native of Shanxi, the province which is topping arrests for corruption, Gao joined the army when she was 17. She had been responsible for major construction projects at the hospital. It included building 15 dormitories and a garage, which could accommodate 1,000 vehicles. If many of the senior posts have been ‘purchased’, one understands that the level of preparedness of the Chinese Armed Forces was not the first priority of many Generals.
The PLA is the world’s largest armed force and has been a pillar of the communist government…
Spate of Military Suicides
The PLA has recently witnessed a wave of suicides linked to corruption. In November, The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported, “As Supreme Leader Xi Jinping’s anti-graft crusade penetrates the inner circles of the People’s Liberation Army, signs of internal tension and disorder among senior military leaders are becoming evident, with reliable sources reporting that a growing number of leaders have committed suicide.” The Hong Kong newspaper cites the cases of Vice Admiral Ma Faxiang who, on November 2013, jumped from the 15th floor of the PLA Navy’s headquarters in Beijing. Ma was the Deputy Commissar responsible for promotions and ideological indoctrination of officers.
A few days earlier, Maj. Gen. Song Yuwen, Deputy Commissar of Jilin military district (of Shenyang Military Region), had hanged himself. He had earlier been suspended on corruption charges. Note that Xu Caihou served most of his early career in Jilin military district. On September 02, Rear Admiral Jiang Zhonghua also jumped from a high-rise building on a naval base in Zhejiang province. Jiang was then director of naval armaments for the South Sea Fleet. The SCMP explains, “The PLA is the world’s largest armed force and has been a pillar of the communist government. Its members enjoy enormous privileges, wealth and political clout, which has bred corruption and immunity from punishment.” ‘Suicide’ is often convenient as dead officers do not speak.
Change of Guard in the PLA
In the process of wiping out corruption, Chairman Xi seems to have decided to go in for a change of guard. In December 2014, The South China Morning Post asserted that the ‘big changes’ in China always occurred on Friday or Saturday, “For the past two years it has been accepted – almost as a rule of thumb – among China’s media and interested mainlanders that Fridays and weekends are the likely time for senior officials to fall from grace over allegations of corruption.” The ‘big change’ for the PLA Tigers did not happen on a weekend, but on the Christmas day.
In the process of wiping out corruption, Chairman Xi seems to have decided to go in for a change of guard…
Want China Times, the news website based in Taiwan announced the replacement of 40 senior commanders in the armed forces. The Taiwanese paper reported, “Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has replaced 40 senior military commanders including the head of the People’s Armed Police according to a new nomination list posted by a Chinese internet user.” The article asserted, “Xi has continued his purge of PLA generals whose loyalty to him may be questionable. The nomination list released on December 20 suggests that various key positions within the Chinese military will be taken over by Lieutenants Generals who are close associates of Xi.” Apart from Qin Weijiang, Hu Yishu and Li Shangfu nominated as the Deputy Chiefs of the General Staff, General Logistics and General Equipment departments respectively, Yin Fanglong and Miao Hua were named as the Political Commissars of the Second Artillery Corps and Navy, while Wang Weiming and Wang Dengping are to be the Deputy Commanders and Deputy Political Commissars of the PLA Navy. Zhang Junxiang and Zhou Yaning will now serve as the Second Artillery Corps’ new Deputy Commanders. Are all these generals honest? It is difficult to say.
The Tibet Military District
Also interesting is the fate of Lt. Gen. Wang Jianping, the Commander of the People’s Armed Police (PAPF) who has apparently lost his job to Wang Ning, a Deputy Chief of General Staff of the PLA. Wang Jiangping was an old Tibet-hand. A native of Hebei province, this officer was promoted to Major General in 1997 and ten years later, he became Lieutenant General. He served as Commander of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s (TAR) PAPF from 1996 to 2000. He knows Tibet well and particularly the frontiers with India. Wang used to be a member of the Central Working Coordination Small Group on Tibet.
2014 Military Achievements
On December 26, 2014, China Military Online quoted a ‘Russian expert’ who listed the top five Chinese military achievements in terms of equipment for the year 2014. The PLA website says China attracted world attention by a series of impressive military achievements. Though quoting an outsider (Russian), this reflects Beijing’s perceptions. Russia’s Satellite Channel reported that an ‘expert’ of Russia’s Strategic and Technical Analysis Centre had selected what he considered the five most important military achievements of China during the past year.
One could add the trial launch of the WU-14, the Chinese hypersonic aircraft. Lift-off by an ICBM, it separated from the missile in the upper atmosphere and then glided and dived towards the earth at a speed ten times that of the velocity of sound, reaching 8,000 miles/hour (about 12,800 kilometres/hour). Igor Korotchenko, Director of the Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade of Russia, believed that it is a proof of China’s enhanced capability to overcome the missile defense system of the US.
On December 04, 2014, the US media, quoting some Pentagon officials, announced that China had conducted the third test on its hypersonic aircraft WU-14. The test comes under China’s strategic nuclear program. This looks as a great achievement but obviously, Beijing does not want to bring too much media focus on it.
When Wang visited Tibet in June 2014, the TAR’s entire Standing Committee was in attendance to receive him. While in Lhasa, he inspected the TAR’s People’s Armed Police training base, a Traffic police detachment, Tibet’s Forest Armed Police Corps, the 117 Police Division, a detachment of Ngari Police. According to The Tibet Daily, he wanted to get a detailed understanding of the situation. Wang Jianping then acknowledged the success achieved by the Armed Police’s Tibet Corps and the Armed Police Forces and gave a piece of advice to officers posted on the frontiers; a good chess player takes the initiative.
The ‘big change’ for the PLA Tigers did not happen on a weekend, but on the Christmas day…
Well, he was probably too close to Zhou Yongkang, the former member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee, who is now being ‘investigated’. It was not a good move on the chessboard for Wang. For India the question is – will a ‘softer’ hand help to stabilise the restive Himalayan region which is the base for any action on the Indian frontiers? It is not certain. Also interesting for us in India, is the fate of Lt. Gen. Yang Jinshan, who for years commanded the Tibet Military District, opposite the Indian troops posted in Arunachal. He ‘did’ so well that he reached the ‘Marxist’ heaven, the CPC’s Central Committee (CC).
In 2005, Yang (a Han, like all senior PLA officers) was promoted to the rank of Major General and in July 2011, he became a Lieutenant General. He had earlier taken over the Command of the Tibet Military District in 2009. In 2012, he was elected as a member of the powerful Central Committee. In June 2013, General Yang was transferred on promotion to Chengdu as a Deputy Commander of the Chengdu Military Region from where he continued to oversee the operations in Tibet.
In October 2014, he was suddenly expelled from the Central Committee ‘for serious disciplinary violations’; it was a first in the annals of the Party – a serving General expelled from the CC. Apparently, General Yang’s fall is also linked to Xu Caihou’s wrongdoings. In the meantime, the CMC warned that ideological struggles within the PLA were ‘acute and complicated’. The Global Times asserted, “Military reform has entered ‘uncharted waters’ with concerns growing that reform could be impeded by ‘structural problems’.” Quite worrying! It would not be surprising if, in 2015, some disgruntled Generals try to enter Indian territory in Ladakh or Arunachal, just to divert the attention of the leadership.
Xi has continued his purge of PLA generals whose loyalty to him may be questionable…
Just before the ‘reshuffle’ in the PLA, Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, the spokesman of the Ministry of National Defense during his regular monthly press conference in Beijing was asked, “Can you give some details on how you see the next year coming?” After mentioning the friendly exchange between China and India and ‘several important cooperation programs between the two militaries’, he spoke of the border defense troops of the two sides who conducted meetings and regular exchanges; he said, “Both sides also properly handled issues of encounter at the Line of Actual Control and maintained peace and stability on the China-India border.”
One still remembers the Chumar incident at the time of Chairman Xi’s visit. The spokesman added, “We should focus our attention on the implementation of the Border Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by the two governments and ensure peace and stability along the China-India border.” To focus on the implementation of the Border Defense Cooperation Agreement does not mean that there will be no Chinese intrusions on Indian soil in 2015, it just signifies, “we can tackle these issues through the Border Agreement.” For the Chinese, the fact that there is a mechanism does not mean ‘no intrusion’, quite the contrary.
In the meantime, the ‘training of the different units based on the plateau continues on a large scale. This is the second part of Xi’s dual move. The conclusion is that India too should be prepared for any contingencies.