Earlier, I covered two seemingly unrelated stories for The Diplomat: lingering accusations that ethnic Chinese rebels in Myanmar were receiving aid from China and the recent announcement of 14 PLA generals under investigation for corruption. Now a recent report from South China Morning Post suggests there’s overlap in those stories: Major General Huang Xing, one of the 14 officers listed as being investigated for corruption, reportedly stands accused not only of fraud, but of leaking state secrets and assisting Kokang rebels in Myanmar back in 2009.
Huang, formerly a top researcher at the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, was an odd figure to appear on the PLA’s list of corrupt officers. As I mentioned in my earlier story, most of the officers on the list were working in either logistics departments or political bureaus – areas rife with opportunities for embezzlement and accepting bribes. As Arthur Ding Shu-fan, a PLA researcher at the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan, told SCMP, seeing Huang’s name on the list was a surprise: “As a military scholar, I don’t think he would be implicated in corruption because he doesn’t have many opportunities to take bribes.”
Sources told SCMP that, in fact, Huang was charged not because of rampant corruption but because he made the “political mistake” of supporting Kokang rebels in their fight against Myanmar government troops. Both military officials, as well as a self-described friend of Huang’s, told SCMP they suspected the fraud charges were merely a convenient pretext for arresting Huang. His support for the Myanmar rebels “embarrassed” top leaders, one retired senior colonel told SCMP, so “they picked up another convenient charge to punish him with.”
It’s not clear exactly what Huang did to aid the rebels. One of SCMP’s sources said Huang was accused of leaking state secrets to the rebels, presumably to help them gain an advantage in their fight against government troops. Notably, the charges are tied to a previous outbreak of fighting in 2009, not to the current violence. Some Myanmar military officials have said that the rebels are currently receiving aid and training from China; both Beijing and rebel leaders have denied this.
It may be China’s state policy not to get involved, but that doesn’t mean individual actors from China are following suit. According to a Radio Free Asia report, sources near the China-Myanmar border say Chinese villagers are smuggling medical supplies and other necessities to the Kokang fighters, despite efforts from local authorities to stop the flow of goods. The SCMP report about Huang also suggests that he aided the rebels back in 2009 without authorization (hence the reported charge of leaking state secrets).
Taking down Huang may be the PLA’s way of signaling that support for the Kokang rebels is politically inadvisable. Beijing would find it difficult to officially report on Huang’s supposed assistance to the rebels in 2009, given its vehement denials that any PLA personnel were involved. Taking Huang down on corruption charges, however, will get the message across to anyone else considering wading into the current conflict.