China Power

China’s PLA Crackdown Gathers Steam

The PLA releases a list of 14 generals under investigation for corruption, signalling a sea change.

China’s PLA Crackdown Gathers Steam
Credit: China soldiers image via Hung Chung Chih /

On Monday, China’s military authority released a list of 14 generals under investigation or already convicted for corruption. The release, timed to come just before China’s annual parliamentary meeting, provides further evidence that anti-corruption efforts in the PLA are gaining steam. Monday’s announcement followed the release of a similar list of 16 military officers under investigation in mid-January.

The release of the list was accompanied by a flurry of state media coverage underlining the PLA’s determination to weed out corruption. A piece posted on the Ministry of Defense website argued that the announcement “makes [the] PLA more trustworthy.” That article also points out a key difference between Monday’s list and the list of names released in January: the former list included names that had already been reported on by official and unofficial media outlets. The March 2 list, on the contrary, included names being linked to anti-graft probes for the first time. Chinese analysts interviewed in the article stressed that releasing the names of corrupt officials could become standard practice for the PLA – a way of getting out ahead of media reports and boosting PLA transparency.

The list includes high-ranking officials from the joint logistics departments of various Military Area Commands as well as a number of deputy political commissars and deputy directors from various political departments. As the New York Times notes, this effectively captures China’s two main worries when it comes to PLA corruption: embezzlement from the logistics department (which handles procurement and other contracts) as well as position-buying and bribery in the political departments.

However, the name being most widely talked about is one missing from the PLA list. General Guo Boxiong, a former vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, is widely believed to be under investigation for corruption, although no official Chinese sources have confirmed this. Guo’s son, General Guo Zhenggang, was included on the March 2 list, which listed him as under investigation for “suspicion of illegal criminal activities.” Reuters’ sources say that announcement was a hint that Guo Boxiong is next – which would make him the second CMC vice chairman to fall, after General Xu Caihou was ousted last year. If Guo does go, it would mean the disgrace of both of China’s top military leaders under Hu Jintao.

The recent push in publicizing anti-corruption efforts in the PLA is unique. As late as last February, the PLA (though reportedly conducting investigations) was largely mum on the subject of who was being investigated for what. Rumors surrounding the fate of two “tigers” –Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan, formerly the deputy head of the General Logistics Department, and Xu Caihou – swirled for months before the PLA made its official announcements (in April and July, respectively).

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The floodgates seemed to have opened since then, with 30 officers publicly named-and-shamed by the PLA in the past two months alone. Less publicized – but potentially of longer-lasting importance – are the recent efforts to revamp the PLA’s separate legal system to more effectively combat corruption; Susan Finder outlined those changes in a recent piece for The Diplomat.

Numerous high-ranking PLA officers have voiced concerns about the impact corruption has on the PLA’s ability to wage wars. General Fan Changlong, currently a CMC vice chairman, recently wrote that the corrosive effects of corruption contributed to China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War – a cautionary tale for today’s PLA. Xi Jinping himself has warned that a corrupt military cannot even fight battles, much less win wars. Those public remarks were a prelude to a serious crackdown on corruption in China’s military – a crackdown we are now beginning to see reach into the upper echelons of the PLA.