In a political system controlled by the communist party, the military is an instrument of the party. It plays a pivotal role in bringing the party to power and uses coercion and force to keep it in power. Its national security mission is dual, internal, and external enemies Similarly, military-like PLA is institutionally penetrated by the ruling Communist Party, its officers are remembered for their loyalty to the party. Making such a military strong and professional in a true sense needs vigorous efforts.
Since President Xi held powerful leadership of China, its military has seen unprecedented attention domestically and globally. Although, in the past two decades, China has increasingly invested in its military modernization program to build a strong professional force focused on deterring foes. President Xi took a reform turn to address issues at a fundamental level. Out of numerous essential reform spots, one of the vital places is to root out corruption from PLA’s ranks and files. During Mao Zedong’s era the military was the key player in politics and governance. Officers held high party posts and wielded much power. PLA played many roles in social and economic affairs, especially during the cultural revolution. During the early period, the ideological beliefs of civilians and military elite were the same and this helped CCP leaders to control the PLA. It was a reform period of Deng Xiaoping where the PLA wielded much power, especially in economic and budgetary affairs. Deng tried to reduce military roles in politics and thus allowed the PLA to engage in a wide range of commercial activities. Deng granted the military’s extensive autonomy to manage its affairs. This left PLA with ineffective supervision by civilian leaders which gave birth to corruption and mismanagement in PLA.
Following the anti-corruption campaign initiated by President Xi in 2012 to bring back control and smooth regulation of the country’s affairs. It not only included the entire party nonetheless also PLA is an equal part of this drive. Since 2012, many strong PLA officers have been removed and sentenced for their alleged part in corruption. Investigation and purges against the high-ranking military leaders such as former CMC vice-chairman Xu Caihou, Guo Boxiong, former General logistic department Gu Junshuan are just tips of corrupt berg in PLA. Recently, the PLA Daily promulgated “4,024 officers with the rank of lieutenant colonel or above, including 82 generals’ ‘ have been subjects of investigation since 2013, resulting in 21 officers abstracted from their posts, 144 demoted, and 77 reprimanded.
Many observers recommended that 90% of corruption cases in PLA are related to the General Political Department- deals with personnel promotion within ranks of services, General Logistic Department- deals with PLA housing, Health, Finance, etc. Meanwhile, the third department namely the General armament Department deals with the procurement of weapons. However, the General Staff Department is a key organization that deals with tasks related to command and operations. Fortunately, it has not been mentioned in corruption cases which gives a level of ease among leaders.
To date, very few operational combat units (i.e. divisions, brigades, regiments, etc.) commanders and staff officers are kenned to have been caught in the corruption dragnet. As the PLA increases the pace of its modernization along with the intensity of its training assignments, requiring personnel who have been felicitously inculcated and trained- who have acquired experience by ascending through the ranks of their functional specialties. It shows those commanders who bought their ranks will automatically face hurdles to prove their worthiness amongst PLA officer cadre.
However, this drive is not all just good but has implications especially on the morale of those who were looking forward to joining the PLA to serve the country. For the time being this drive attracted negative coverage but in the longer go this is going to improve not just the professionalism within the institute but is also going to improve its performance and profile amongst world militaries. That is why this corruption drive must be studied in the context of the overall reform policy of President Xi which is likely to be continued till mid of the 21st century, 2049. Till then PLA remains adamant to clean its ranks as best to serve the people’s interests.
Author: Syed Ali Abbas
About Author: Syed Ali Abbas has graduated in International Relations from NUML, Islamabad, and studies Chinese Politics at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Previously, Syed worked with Global Village Space magazine and as research internee at Center for Global and Strategic Studies, Islamabad.
Edited By: Talha Ahmad (Editor in Chief PSF)
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Pakistan Strategic Forum.