July 1 (Bloomberg) -- China expelled a retired deputy commander of the People’s Liberation Army from the Communist Party for bribery, the highest-level military official ensnared for corruption in more than six decades.
Xu Caihou, a former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, the highest military body, was expelled during a meeting of the Politburo presided over by President Xi Jinping, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday. Evicting Xu, 71, removes his legal protections as a senior cadre and his case has been handed over to military prosecutors.
The official confirmation of the investigation into Xu, which was opened March 15, comes as Xi campaigns to eradicate corruption from both the party and the 2.3 million-strong PLA, the world’s largest army by headcount. Xi, who took over as head of the CMC when he became party leader in November 2012, is seeking to turn the PLA into a capable fighting force and make the country a maritime power.
The expulsion of Xu shows both the depth of corruption in the army and the progress of Xi’s anti-graft drive, Colonel Liu Mingfu, a professor at China’s National Defense University, said in a phone interview.
“The PLA has two battles to fight: one is a potential real one on the real battle ground, the other is the fight against corruption,” Liu said. “Without winning the second battle, the army will lose the first one without a doubt.”
Xu took advantage of his position to help others get promoted, and he took bribes directly and via his family, according to Xinhua. He also used his position to make profit for others, and his family has accepted property and money, it said, calling its impact “vile.”
Nowhere to Hide
“The PLA is an armed group to enforce the party’s political tasks,” the Politburo declared, according to Xinhua. “The party will never allow a place for corrupt people to hide, and the military will never allow a place for corrupt people to hide.”
A commentary on the front page of today’s People’s Daily newspaper, which is published by the party, pledged to seriously punish those who violate party discipline or the law, no matter how high their rank.
The Politburo meeting occurred a day before the 93rd anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party, which is celebrated on July 1. Xi has warned corruption is the biggest threat to the survival of the party, which took power in 1949.
Xu became a vice chairman of the commission in September 2004, the same month then-President Hu Jintao took over from Jiang Zemin as its head. He was a member of the powerful Politburo between 2007 and 2012, alongside Bo Xilai, the former party chief of Chongqing who was sentenced to life in prison for corruption in September last year. Xu was believed to have ties with Bo, who was mayor of Xu’s home city of Dalian between 1993 and 2000, according to reports in state media.
Xu’s last public appearance was in January in Beijing at a Chinese New Year gala performance for incumbent and retired military officials. There had been speculation in Hong Kong media that Xu may be spared prosecution because he has terminal bladder cancer.
“By taking down the biggest military tiger, Xi showed he is a completely different commander-in-chief,” Xu Guangyu, senior adviser at Beijing-based research group the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said before the announcement.
Jiang Jiemin, former head of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, Li Dongsheng, former public security vice minister, and Wang Yongchun, former vice deputy general manager at China National Petroleum Corp. were also expelled from the party at the meeting. Jiang and Li have been linked to former security chief and Bo Xilai-supporter Zhou Yongkang, who is the most senior target of anti-corruption investigators, according to reports in the South China Morning Post.
Li was appointed public security vice minister four years after Zhou took one of nine spots on the Politburo Standing Committee with oversight of China’s security apparatus. Jiang, a former CNPC and PetroChina chairman, and Zhou were top executives who served together at an oilfield in eastern China in 1989-1990, according to their official biographies. Zhou was general manager of CNPC in the 1990s.
Retired general Xu, considered one of Jiang Zemin’s top military proteges, was a vice chairman in charge of military personnel, wielding considerable power over the armed forces. He was allegedly linked to Gu Junshan, the disgraced former deputy logistics head of the PLA, who was charged in March with corruption, misuse of state funds and abuse of power, according to the South China Morning Post.
Gu, 57, was under investigation for two years before being formally indicted for corruption. He received hundreds of millions of yuan in cash and gifts, according to state media reports, and cases of Moutai liquor and a gold statue of Mao Zedong were found at his house in the city of Puyang in Henan province.
The downfall of Xu will enhance Xi’s authority over the army, National Defense University’s Col. Liu said. Buying and selling military ranks was widespread in the army in the decade under Xi’s predecessor Hu, and it was common for military officials to use money to climb the career ladder, according to reports in state media.
The PLA is considering revamping its official evaluation system to focus on competence, clean conduct, political reliability and trustworthiness, Xinhua reported in February. It will audit military personnel before deciding to promote them or let them retire, it reported in September.
Xi has vowed to snare both “tigers” and “flies,” or senior and lower-ranking officials, in his campaign to root out corruption.
“Catching such a big military tiger would be unthinkable if Xi hadn’t won the support of retired and incumbent military leaders and state leaders,” Liu said. “He’s not fighting a solo anti-graft fight.”
(An earlier version of this story was corrected to show that Bo Xilai was the party chief of Chongqing, not mayor.)
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at email@example.com Neil Western