Chinese military’s rising star falls back to earth ‘over links to disgraced senior commanders and daughter’s marriage to Frenchman’

Former rising star Cai Yingting is demoted by eight grades with sources blaming doubts about his loyalty and failure to disclose foreign family ties

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2018, 7:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2018, 7:55am

A former rising star of the Chinese military has been demoted by eight grades to become a battalion commander, according to several independent sources close to the military.

General Cai Yingting, a former president of the Academy of Military Science and the deputy chief of general staff before President Xi Jinping started overhauling the military, has been demoted from the Grade 2 post of “military leader” to the Grade 10 position of “battalion leader”, according to several sources close to the People’s Liberation Army.

Possible reasons for his downfall included his daughter’s marriage to a Frenchman – which he failed to report through the proper channels – and his association with now disgraced senior commanders.

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The Central Military Commission, headed by Xi, has not made any public announcements but news of Cai’s demotion started circulating in military circles on Sunday.

Cai retired from the military academy last year, two years before he reached the PLA’s maximum retirement age. Under normal circumstances he would have kept his senior ranking after retiring from the academy.

His last public appearance was on August 6 last year at the funeral of the former Jiangsu party chief Shen Daren, where he was listed as being among the “retired cadres” along with former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

The ministry of national defence did not reply to a request for comment on Cai’s status.

Cai, 64, had been seen by many as a rising star since Xi promoted him to become the youngest serving general at the age of 59 in 2013.

However, rumours that he was under investigation have been spreading for more than a year.

One of the sources said he had made a mistake when his daughter married a French citizen and he did not report it to the Central Military Commission in a timely fashion.

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The CMC “just learned about it [the marriage] after being tipped off by a whistle-blower”, the source added.

Xi started a national anti-corruption campaign in 2013 and one focus has been senior figures with family connections outside China, which is seen as a way of funnelling money out of the country.

Cai headed the Nanjing Military Region from 2012 to 2016 and was previously a secretary to Zhang Wannian, a former vice-chairman of the CMC.

Zhang, who died in 2015, was a close aide to Jiang, the former president, who arranged for two former CMC vice-chairmen Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou to take over all the PLA’s staff affairs, limiting Hu’s influence when he succeeded Jiang.

But Guo and Xu later fell from grace when Xi took charge, with the former receiving a life sentence for corruption in 2016. Xu died of cancer last year at the age 72 while in custody under investigation on similar charges.

Cai had publicly distanced himself from the two fallen commanders, saying Xu’s actions were on a par with the “top 10 treacherous court officials in Ancient China”.

However, his pledges of loyalty failed to win Xi’s trust, according to a source who familiar with the matter.

In December, Xi announced new leaders to the five new theatre commands – North, South, East, West and Central, which replaced the former seven military commands – as part of his massive overhaul to modernise the PLA.

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However, the outside world was surprised that Cai was not nominated as head of the theatre command, and he was given a less powerful position as head of the Academy of Military Science.

One of the sources said Cai’s demotion was actually a “safe landing” to let him have an “easy retirement”.

“Compared with other retired senior officials, Cai has lost political and social status, as well as official preferential treatment, but at least it’s a safe landing for him, with no need to spend the rest of his life in Qincheng Prison,” one source said.

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Qincheng, known as the “tiger cage” houses many disgraced senior officials, including the former security chief Zhou Yongkang and former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai.

“Of course, as a former senior military leader who knows so many state secrets, Cai needs to lives in a specific place in his rest of life,” the source added.