mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Xi's Party Purge
China’s Purge Takes Aim at PLA

China’s high-profile takedown of a massively corrupt “gem-encrusted tiger” last week made waves in the Chinese media, and it may signal the beginning of a new phase in President Xi’s ongoing party purge. That tiger, Xu Caihou, is a People’s Liberation Army general, and now the state-run South China Morning Post reports that the anti-graft campaign’s next major target may be a PLA official as well:

Investigators are still wrapping up the case against fallen former general Xu Caihou but speculation mounted yesterday that graft-busters were targeting another senior military officer.

An article posted in Cha Shiju, or Political Observer, an online publication produced by mainland journalists on the WeChat platform, said there were hints that “the authorities are targeting another tiger within the military”.

“His name will be announced at an appropriate time,” the article said, without giving more details.

The article came after Liu Yazhou, political commissar of the People’s Liberation Army National Defence University, said at a forum last week that the investigation into Xu, a former vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission, and bribery and embezzlement charges against Gu Junshan, the former deputy chief of the military’s General Logistics Department, were only the start of efforts to tackle corruption in the military.

The relationship between the executive and the military is one of the more opaque aspects of Chinese politics. China-watchers frequently debate whether Xi has significant control over the PLA leadership, since China often claims that international military incidents are the fault of “rogue generals.” For example, China denied responsibility for a jet intercept near Hainan Island earlier this year.

Signals that the next phase of the purge looks to be aimed squarely at the PLA don’t entirely clear things up, but they do indicate that Xi recognizes the need to thin out the ranks of the PLA brass as he seeks to consolidate power. That process may wind up being much uglier than the civil purge has been.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    In the west going after corrupt government officials is a way of making the government more efficient. In a communist dictatorship like China, it is all about consolidating power, as the most corrupt officials are all within the inner circle, and their cronies. This so called Gem-Encrusted Tiger, had all his supposed bribes stored in his home, and conveniently many of the bribes were in unopened (not even counted? criminals always count the money.) boxes labeled with the briber’s name and what the bribe was for. Basically it looks like everyone considered less than politically loyal, will be framed as having bribed the Tiger. The nearest equivalent case in the west that I can think of was a sting operation called Abscam, where a politician hid a $100k bribe in his freezer, in that case law enforcement knew he was corrupt because they were the ones that bribed him. The 70 richest officials in China were worth $90 Billion in 2011. How do you become a billionaire while serving in government? By taking bribes, kickbacks, and other forms of extortion. “Say that’s a nice business you have there, it would be a shame if something happened to it.”

    • Kevin

      Corruption is bad, but it’s not zero sum. The corrupt official has some interest in fostering economic activity if only so he can get his cut. When the powers that be start moving from the parasitic to the paranoid, they eliminate other potential sources of challengers, inevitably reducing economic activity.

      Of course, Xi could be just cleaning out the old corrupt players as a preliminary move, before replacing them with a new set of corrupt official who owe a debt to him. Still this sort of turmoil is bad for business, whether you are a bribe taker or payer.

  • Kevin

    I hope for his sake that Xi’s bodyguard is large and loyal. Purging the army can get ugly if they think their best movies to purge you before you can purge them.

    Xi seems to be destabilizing the post-Mao political rules of the game wherein the losers of a political struggle were allowed to retire comfortably rather than being imprisoned or shot. If the stakes in these struggles go up, politics becomes a lot more brutal and unpredictable, with all parties having shorter time horizons. Meade thinks this has to do with preparing for an economic slowdown, but I wonder if it might rather turn out to be a cause.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service