Still in grip of corruption, will PLA fulfil Xi’s wish to capture Taiwan by 2027?

Like every developing country, China is not immune to corruption and the country’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is said to be equally drenched in its baleful effect despite a hard try by the Central Military Commission—the high command of the Chinese military. This concern was expressed by President Xi Jinping at the just concluded (July 20-21) meeting of the CMC. He also

underscored the need for “combat readiness” of the PLA at the meeting in Beijing, said state-backed Xinhua news. At the time when Beijing is gearing up to unify Taiwan with mainland China and has threatened to use military means to control and occupy the self-ruling island, the PLA is grappling with kickbacks, commissions, and bribes. Aljazeera said corruption in the Chinese military stems largely from a tradition of nepotism and favouritism, and a general lack of oversight. What shocks China watchers is that since 2012, Xi Jinping has, under zero-tolerance to corruption, purged hundreds of military officials accused of taking bribes and other forms of corruption and yet, the menace continues to have a cancerous presence in the country’s defence sector. In 2021, as per Insider.com, China punished 627,000 officials for corruption and “violating Communist Party discipline and laws.” These officials were from

China’s various departments and agencies, including defence, said the US- based news portal. Those sacked from the defence sector in 2021 included both senior and junior ranking officials. Yin Jiaxu, the former head of the state- backed China North Industries Group Corporation (Norinco), the country’s largest weapon manufacturer, was expelled from the Communist Party and also punished after he was found to be involved in various corrupt deals. He

was accused of receiving “huge sums” of money and gifts, South China Morning Post quoted the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection as stating in its statement on September 30, 2021. A few months earlier in the

same year, prosecutors slapped similar charges on Yin’s predecessor, Hu Wenming, accusing him of receiving bribes during most of his career in the defence industry. Norinco supplies weapons and equipment to all branches of the Chinese PLA. On January 30, 2015, China Daily said more than 4,000 senior officers of the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and above—including 82 Generals had been probed, of whom 242 faced punishments ranging from a reprimand to imprisonment. In June 2014, the Chinese Communist Party expelled former Politburo member and Central Military Commission Vice Chair XuCaihou for “trading offices for bribes,” the Hoover Institution, a US-based preeminent research centre said in an article. Earlier in 2012, Gen GuoBoxiong was removed from his post as the Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission. South China Morning Post said Gen Guo was found to have taken bribes worth $12.3 million but that is thought to be a “small fraction of the

wealth he actually amassed”. Paying bribes to senior officers for getting into the PLA is commonplace. In a report published on July 1, 2014, Bloomberg said limited spots in annual recruitment drives across China’s 31 provinces and municipalities for the world’s largest army, plus a “high failure rate for physical fitness tests, leads parents to pay to guarantee a spot for their child in the enlistment season that runs through September.” Depending on individual “guanxi,” (connections), the rate charged for per candidate’s recruitment in the army stood as much as $16,000, Bloomberg said. Even as a lot of changes have taken place in China’s defence and security apparatus since 2013, including Xi has established himself as a dominant CMC Chairman, but such measures have not driven corruption out of the country’s military and defence industry. Earlier in July this year, the CMC secretariat, as per South China Morning Post, called for establishing an early warning system to prevent corruption risks in the military. Though no details on the features and

character of the planned warning system were given, the PLA Daily said the system would involve monitoring to prevent misuse and overreach of power. Analysts say till Chinese military is kept pressuring toing CPC lines and asked to remain loyal to the party, it cannot remain immune to the corruption. Because, those who have been entrusted to ensure that army personnel remain loyal to the party often compromise with the system by failing to honestly implement guidelines framed for keeping discipline in check, feel some analysts. CPC’s party committees are tasked with the responsibility to ensure a clean military, while disciplinary committees are in-charge of oversight. “Some of the big tigers who fell because of corruption charges such as XuCaihou belonged to the political work system. These commissars had an incentive to cover up corruption to not disclose their failure to keep discipline in check,” Li Nan, a visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute was quoted by the Hong Kong-based English daily as saying. As per War on the Rocks, a US-based portal on foreign policy and national security, a vast majority of corruption in the PLA is found within the political officer system, (mostly involving promotions and assignments), the logistics and armaments systems (those who handle official funds and property and are involved in the procurement of supplies and equipment), and in low-level local headquarters responsible for conscription and recruitment. There is a feeling that in the situation when the Chinese military remains wobbled by corruption charges, the PLA cannot become a strong force, enough to take over Taiwan in one stroke as Beijing claims. Chinese President Xi Jinping, as per US intelligence, has ordered the PLA to be ready by 2027 to annex Taiwan.