China’s military today called for unity and loyalty to the ruling Communist Party after Xu Caihou, one of its most senior former officers, was accused of corruption – the highest-ranking official to date felled in a battle against pervasive graft.
Xu, who retired as vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) last year and from the party’s decision-making Politburo in 2012, was also expelled from the party and will face court martial.
President Xi Jinping heads the CMC, which controls the 2.3 million-strong armed forces, the world's largest, and has repeatedly reminded them to be loyal to the party.
In a front page commentary, the military's official People's Liberation Army Daily called on its forces to “resolutely endorse the correct decision of the party's centre ... the Central Military Commission and Chairman Xi”.
“Our military is an armed bloc which carries out the ruling party's political mission, and must have high standards when it comes to building a clean party and government,” it said, on a day that also marks 93 years since the party was founded.
“The military holds the barrels of the guns, and cannot give hiding space to corrupt elements. Absolute loyalty, absolute purity and absolute reliability are the political demands of the party for the military,” the commentary said.
Xi has made weeding out corruption in the military a top goal. It also comes as Xi steps up efforts to modernise forces that are projecting power across the disputed waters of the East and South China Seas, though it has not fought a war in decades.
The party has struggled to contain public anger at a seemingly endless stream of corruption scandals, particularly when officials are seen as abusing their posts to amass wealth.
China stepped up a crackdown on rampant corruption in the military in the late 1990s, banning the PLA from engaging in business. But the military has engaged in commercial dealings in recent years due to a lack of checks and balances, sources say.
The buying and selling of military positions has also been an open secret but Chinese media have generally avoided the topic. It is difficult to assess how widespread the problem is.
For officers who paid bribes to be promoted, corruption is seen as a means of making a return on investment.
Examples of graft include leasing military-owned land to private business, selling military licence plates, illegally occupying military apartments or taking kickbacks when buying food or equipment.
The 71-year-old Xu, who retired from both the commission last year and from the party's decision-making Politburo in 2012, could face the death penalty if convicted.
"His case is serious and leaves a vile impact," Xinhua cited a Politburo statement as saying.
"Anyone, no matter what authority and office he holds, will receive serious punishment if violating party discipline and laws. We will never compromise nor show mercy," it said. "The military should not be a hiding place for corrupt people."
The investigation into Xu, launched on March 15, found he had received bribes "personally and through his family members" in exchange for granting promotions in the military.
Dozens of armed police took Xu from his bed at the 301 Military Hospital in Beijing on the day Xinhua said the probe was launched.
An internal briefing among senior military officers said Xu or his family had received more than 35 million yuan (HK$44 million) from the PLA's former deputy logistics chief, Gu Junshan. Gu was charged with several crimes, including bribery and embezzlement, in March.
A source with close ties to the PLA said the investigation into Xu by anti-graft officials had been under way for about a year.
Additional reporting by staff reporters