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China to Audit Army Staff as Anti-Graft Campaign Gains Pace

PLA Guard of Honor
Members of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Guard of Honor perform drills during a media tour in Beijing. Photographer: Sim Chi Yin/Bloomberg

China will audit military personnel before deciding to promote them or let them retire, as the Communist Party presses ahead with a campaign to root out graft within its officer ranks.

Scrutiny will focus on areas including property holdings and the use of official vehicles, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday, citing guidelines issued by the Central Military Commission.

The new rules add to restrictions that China has imposed as part of a broader anti-corruption campaign unveiled after President Xi Jinping took over the ruling Communist Party last year. While state media rarely discuss graft in the People’s Liberation Army, a retired major general wrote in February that military corruption has eroded China’s combat effectiveness.

“It’s going to be very hard to find a senior military officer or higher who probably hasn’t taken some little kickback,” Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said by phone. “If they start going after everybody, they’re going to have nobody left in the PLA to run this thing.”

The military commission, also headed by Xi, banned the use of military license plates on luxury cars as part of efforts to reinforce discipline and protect its image, the PLA Daily, the armed forces’ official newspaper, reported on April 28. The plates, which may exempt drivers from tolls or parking fees, have been distributed as favors in the past.

Rule Violations

Officials from units or enterprises affiliated with the military will be included in the auditing, according to the Xinhua report. Military officials will be transferred or removed from their posts if they are found to have seriously violated the rules, Xinhua reported.

Auditing of military personnel “will have significant and far-reaching impact on strengthening the management and supervision of military officials, improving their work style and fighting against corruption,” Xinhua reported, citing the commission’s new guidelines.

China has embarked on a military modernization plan as its defense budget, now the second highest in the world behind the U.S., has more than doubled since 2006. In 1998, then President Jiang Zemin ordered the People’s Liberation Army to shut down a business network that generated an estimated $2 billion in annual profits.

Actively Encouraged

“Up until about 15 years ago the military was actively encouraged to get into business,” Bitzinger said. “A lot of these generals left on a Friday in their uniforms and came back on Monday in their business suits.”

In February, Xinhua reported on a new regulation ordering the army to tighten control over receptions, celebrations and overseas trips. Soldiers were also told to recook unfinished rice and turn leftover vegetables into “various pickles and appetizers” to cut down on waste, according to Xinhua.

The same month, retired Major General Luo Yan said corruption had undermined combat effectiveness. “It is hard to imagine that a corrupt army can vanquish the enemy and win victory,” he wrote in the state-owned Global Times newspaper.

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