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Background Brief China: Corruption and Military Professionalism Carlyle A. Thayer October 2, 2013

[client name deleted] We request your assessment of corruption in the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). Two of our staff have learned that the case of General Gu Junshan is moving towards trial and that the case is likely to have greater transparency than previous trials. The bribery amounts are likely to be huge. Whether or not they go after Gu's patrons, our assessment is that Xi's anti-corruption campaign is shifting from rhetoric towards serious action for the first time in decades. Our view also has been that corruption has been is seriously debilitating. We request your assessment of our tentative conclusions. And we request your assessment of whether or not Xi Jinping is serious about fighting corruption in the PLA and what might it mean for Chinese military capabilities. ANSWER: Chinas leaders all recognize that entrenched large-scale corruption and the patronage networks they breed are a threat to the legitimacy of one-party rule. For example, General Liu Yuan was quoted as stating in late 2011, no country can defeat China. Only our corruption can destroy us and cause our armed forces to be defeated without fighting. General Liu is a confidant of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping who is also chair of the Central Military Commission (CMC). Since his elevation as party General Secretary and CMC head Xi has set priority on dealing with flies and tigers low and high ranking officials involved in corruption. Xi Jinping is motivated to tackle corruption for two main reasons to stamp his authority on the Chinese political system, including its myriad domestic civilian and military security and intelligence agencies and the PLA itself, and to address a serious issue affecting the rule of the CCP. But a balance must be sought between punishing those guilty of excessive corruption and not upsetting the carefully balanced patronage networks and destabilizing the party. In June this year, Xi convened a four-day meeting of the Politburo at Zhongnanhai to discuss anti-corruption measures. Xi was reported as stating, efforts to maintain strict discipline must start at the Politburo.

2 On PLA day this year, 1st August, Xi promoted six military officers to the rank of full general and shortly after promoted eighteen major generals to the rank of lieutenant general. Of the twenty-four new generals and lieutenant generals, eleven come from political commands. This is an indication that Xi intends to deal with corruption within the PLA with a particular focus on promotion based on merit and professionalism rather than seniority. In August, General Fan Changlong, deputy chairman of the CMC ordered that senior military officers disclose information on their personal and family assets, who they dealt with in their officials capacities and the jobs held by family and relatives. The following month Xi, as chairman of the CMC, signed off on new regulations governing the use of official vehicles by army and security officials at garrison command level. When corruption becomes excessive and begins to impact on the normal operations of the party-state, senior party leaders must act. This year Xi Jinping had to confront this issue in the Bo Xilai case which had ramifications for internal party stability. Other indications that Xi is serious about tacking corruption may be seen in three current cases. The first involves the investigation of the role of former head of the Legal and Political Affairs Committee, Zhou Yongkang. Zhous Committee had oversight of Chinas domestic security and police agencies. The current investigation into Zhou and his patronage network appears to be part of the fall out of the Bo Xilai affair. The second corruption case involves Lt. General Gu Junshan, former deputy director of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) General Logistic Department. General Liu reportedly brought information on Gus bribery and corruption to the attention of Xi Jinping. Gu reportedly amassed wealth by selling PLA land and posts. The third corruption case involves General Xu Caihou who reportedly accepted bribes from General Gu and promoted his rapid rise in PLA ranks. Xu was a powerful figure indeed, he was one of three vice chairman of the Central Military Commission appointed in 2004 and he served as secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection. What does Xis current anti-corruption efforts mean for the PLA? Recall that in December last year Xi visited a guided missile destroyer that formed part of a naval detachment that patrolled in the contested waters of the South China Sea. In an address to naval personnel he linked his China Dream to a strong nation and a strong military. During his first three months in office as party leader and chair of the Central Military Commission he visited several army, navy, air force, space and missile facilities. In his addresses to naval personnel he urged them to fight and win wars. The PLAs involvement in commercial affairs, and the development of political patronage networks funded by corruption, both serve to weaken the PLA as a modern and professional fighting force. One of the central arguments of academic literature on civil-military relations is that a military is most professional when it is tasked with meeting external threats to the state. Military professionalism embraces both appointment and promotion based on merit and competence in organizing for

3 armed conflict. Military involvement in commercial enterprises and patron-client networks based on corruption detracts from these missions. In the case of General Gu Junshan, for example, he reportedly advanced his career by providing bribes to senior generals (and secured his rapid promotion) and he profited by the sale of army land.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, China: Corruption and Military Professionalism, Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, October 2, 2013. All background briefs are posted on (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list type UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key. Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.