Retired PLA general Xu Caihou: a big shot with friends in high places

As a protégé of Jiang Zemin he rose swiftly through the ranks and wielded great power

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 March, 2014, 4:34am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 2014, 8:49am

Retired PLA general Xu Caihou, the subject of a high-profile corruption probe, was a man who wielded immense power and moved in the very highest political circles.

He was a protégé of former president Jiang Zemin and was seen as a supporter of Bo Xilai, the disgraced former Chongqing Communist Party chief.

As one of three vice-chairmen of the all-powerful Central Military Commission (CMC), he also worked with President Xi Jinping, who is chairman of the commission.

Xu is also believed to be an ally of Zhou Yongkang, the former security tsar and Politburo Standing Committee member who is also under graft investigation.

Born in June 1943 in the port city of Dalian, Xu, a graduate in electronic engineering from the Harbin Institute of Military Engineering, joined the army in 1963. He joined the party in 1971 and spent the early part of his career in the Jilin military area command before moving to Beijing.

His rise from being a political commissar in the 16th Group Army to assistant to the director of the PLA General Political Department in 1992 was widely believed to be a move by the party to fill the vacuum left by the purging of powerful general Yang Shangkun , his half brother Yang Baibing and their allies in the same year by Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin .

Xu was in charge of the PLA Daily in 1993 before being promoted to deputy director of the PLA General Political Department in 1999, and he was promoted to the CMC in 2000.

He became director-general of that department in 2002. He was elevated to CMC vice-chairman at the age of 61, making him the youngest military leader. By 2007 he was a member of the Politburo.

Xu was rumoured to be linked to the Communist Party's inquiry into one of his subordinates, Gu Junshan, a former PLA deputy logistics chief, who has been under house arrest in connection with a corruption probe since early 2012.

This was one of several cases reported by state media. Another involved former deputy navy commander Wang Shouye , who received a suspended death sentence in April 2007 for embezzling 160 million yuan (HK$202 million) in public funds.

David Tsui, a PLA affairs expert at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, said that corruption had got a lot worse among troops in the past decade, and Xu, as the PLA's top leader in charge of personnel and ideology, should be held responsible.

"That is why Xi, since becoming CMC chairman, has started an unprecedented crackdown on waste and corruption in the armed forces," said Tsui, the son of a late PLA general. Tsui said that was also why Xi had taken personal charge of a leading group for deepening national defence and military reform.

Tsui said the sale of military positions was rampant. The position of major general, for instance, was worth several million yuan.

Ironically, Xu was a secretary of the PLA's Discipline Inspection Commission, the army's anti-graft watchdog, from 2000 to 2002.

Xu made his last public appearance on January 20 at a Lunar New Year party in Beijing.