The PLA Daily yesterday published two full pages of speeches by 17 generals vowing allegiance to their commander-in-chief, President Xi Jinping, the third such campaign by the official military newspaper in the past six weeks.
Analysts said the campaign indicated that Xi was facing severe challenges at home and internationally and that shoring up the loyalty of the army was a must for him.
"China is facing great pressure from outside, especially simmering tensions in the East China Sea with Japan over the Diaoyu islands, so the PLA should be ready for a possible conflict with Japan's self-defence force," Ni Lexiong, a military expert, said in Shanghai. "Corruption is fatal to an army. However, it's an open secret that corruption is rampant in the PLA, with disgraced former deputy logistics chief Gu Junshan being a typical example."
Gu, a former lieutenant general, was charged late last month with embezzlement, bribery, misuse of state funds and abuse of power by the military procuratorate, or prosecutor's office. It is rumoured that he spent hundreds of millions of yuan buying his way through the ranks.
"Xi realises that it's impossible to bring down all corrupt officers involved in buying and selling military ranks, as he still needs military leaders to train grass-roots soldiers," Ni said.
"In order to maintain the army's morale, he would prefer to keep a gate open to tainted officers who were willing to pledge allegiance to him."
The excerpts from speeches published yesterday were from 17 vice political commissars and deputy commanders - all holding the rank of major general or above. Thirty-six more senior officers made similar pledges on March 7 and April 2.
All the generals vowed to study hard and implement Xi's ideas on defence and military strategy. They came up with the statements after taking part in three courses, lasting six days each, on Xi's military philosophy at the National Defence University. The final course, from April 8 to 13, dealt with Xi's "China dream" concept and how to build an army that was capable of defending the country and leading it to victory.
Zhang Lifan, a military commentator in Beijing, said it was the first time that so many senior officers had declared their allegiance to a chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the military's top brass, since the mainland's opening up in the late 1970s.
"I think Xi is facing dogged defiance from the top echelons in both the army and government amid his sweeping anti-corruption campaign, which has forced him to manage so many study meetings for high-level military and government officials to learn his philosophy," Zhang said.
"The special pages published by the PLA will not influence top-level officers, but will help Xi raise morale of mid-ranking officers and common soldiers."
Last month the CMC ordered all military units to hang important inscriptions and instructions, given to the military by the five top leaders from Mao Zedong to Xi, in their meeting rooms.
Zhang said that particular order was part of Xi's propaganda campaign and was in keeping with the pages of speeches run by the PLA Daily.
"Xi will maintain these types of propaganda exercises to show he is as determined as Mao or Deng Xiaoping to keep a strong hold over the military."
During previous courses, top generals pledged their allegiance to Xi. They included General Liu Yuan, a political commissar who heads the army's anti-corruption unit.