Time for Xi to clean up the sleaze pervading the PLA

The president has made a good start in reining in the excesses of the military. He should lift the veil of secrecy that often cloaks the guilty

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 August, 2013, 4:09am

Thursday marked the 86th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army, the first key military occasion overseen by President Xi Jinping in his capacity Central Military Commission chairman.

Celebrations, however, were largely restrained. Xi paid a visit to the headquarters of the Beijing Military Region and, in adherence to custom, promoted six senior military officers ahead of the anniversary.

More notable were comments by a professor at the National Defence University. In an online chat organised by the People's Daily, Gong Fangbin generally followed the party line, trying hard to defend why the armed forces should remain under the control of the Communist Party as they have for six decades - no surprise there.

But Gong was also unusually candid in acknowledging the challenges the PLA face, including its combat-readiness for potential military conflicts involving the East and the South China Sea.

Interestingly, Gong mentioned the corruption cases involving Lieutenant General Gu Junshan and his predecessor former deputy admiral Wang Shouye , saying such crimes involving senior military officers had made mainlanders unhappy.

His public acknowledgment of corruption in the PLA was highlighted by mainland news portals and newspapers.

Indeed, despite intense rumours about the widespread corruption permeating the PLA, leaders have never publicly broached the issue.

In Gu's case, he was removed as deputy director of the PLA's Logistics Department in February last year amid allegations of massive corruption. He was in charge of construction of military barracks, which gave him ample opportunities to make money through land requisitions and development.

However, the PLA has never publicly acknowledged why he was removed, despite credible reports he was arrested and would be court-martialled.

Gu's alleged corruption is widely believed to be worse than that of Wang's, who was jailed for life for embezzling 160 million yuan in 2006, the biggest corruption scandal in the PLA's history.

Wang too was in charge of construction of military barracks before he was promoted to deputy navy commander.

Given the systemic corruption on the mainland, it should come as no surprise the PLA itself is affected. Anecdotal evidence suggests senior officers often solicit bribes from lower-ranking officers seeking promotions.

In the name of national defence, the PLA usually receives land for free, which allows senior officers such as Gu and Wang to sell land to property developers for huge personal gains. There is also credible speculation the officers misappropriated military funds for drinking binges and other extravagances.

This partly explains why Xi launched an anti-corruption drive targeting the military when he came to power in November.

He has since issued directives banning drinking, forbidden officers from leasing their number plates and undertaken comprehensive audits of military-owned assets. While Xi has earned praise for showing a greater willingness in tackling corruption than his predecessors did, such moves are small given the scale of the military sleaze.

To push ahead, Xi must remove the PLA's time-honoured tradition of sweeping scandals under the carpet. He can send no better signal than making public Gu's court martial.