China confirms anti-graft official’s position on military’s ruling body as war on corruption heats up

Zhang Shengmin becomes the first disciplinary chief to land a place on the top table of the Central Military Commission

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2018, 7:43pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2018, 11:25pm

China on Sunday showed its commitment to stamping out corruption in the military with the appointment of a senior anti-graft official to the highest ranks of its governing body.

General Zhang Shengmin was officially endorsed by the National People’s Congress as one of the four regular members of the Central Military Commission, who will serve under its chairman Xi Jinping and his two vice-chairmen.

While Zhang was already head of the defence organisation’s discipline inspection commission, the confirmation of his elevation to the body’s top table is highly significant as Beijing continues to battle institutionalised corruption in the military, and will give him a far greater say in the day-to-day administration of the world’s largest army.

Zhang is the first official from the CMC’s anti-graft department to be promoted to such a lofty position.

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China has parallel Central Military Commissions, one aligned to the state and another to the Communist Party. Zhang’s promotion to the latter was made at the national party congress in October.

Another first at Sunday’s proceedings was the oath-taking by the CMC’s two vice-chairmen – Xu Qiliang and Zhang Youxia – and the four regular members.

In previous years, the military was not required to swear its allegiance to the constitution, but those rules have changed as China’s state and party functions have become increasingly entwined.

“In the past, PLA [People’s Liberation Army] officials were sworn in only under the ‘party controls the gun’ principle,” said Beijing-based military commentator Li Jie.

“But the constitutional oath at the NPC is designed to tell the world that the whole army and even the powerful CMC must also abide by the constitution.”

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The significance of a senior anti-corruption official swearing such allegiance should not be underestimated, Li said.

“The constitutional oath that included the military’s anti-graft chief Zhang impressed me, because it is consistent with President Xi’s call to ‘rule the country’s armed forces with strict discipline and in accordance with the law’,” he said.

The only member of the CMC not involved in the oath-taking ceremony on Sunday was Xi himself, although he had pledged his allegiance the day before.

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According to Shanghai-based military affairs commentator Ni Lexiong, the promotion of Zhang to the CMC leadership, along with the revised charter and updated swearing-in process, would provide Xi with the tools he needed to complete the sweeping anti-graft campaign he launched five years ago.

“The newly amended constitution will allow [Xi] to continue his anti-graft campaign which is only half completed after his first term,” he said.

“Zhang has been a member of this campaign and his taking an oath is an agreement that it will go on as long as it needs to.”

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More than 13,000 PLA officers, including 100 generals, were taken down in the first five years of the anti-corruption campaign, which Xi has deemed essential to the modernisation and upgrading of the country’s armed forces.

While he was won plaudits for his determination to rid all branches of the party of bad apples, he has also been criticised for using the campaign to silence and eliminate his political rivals.

The downsizing of the CMC itself, from 11 members in his first term of office to seven now, has also been viewed by military analysts as a way for Xi to tighten his grip on the organisation.

Besides Zhang, the three other regular members of the CMC who were sworn in on Sunday were General Wei Fenghe, General Li Zuocheng and Admiral Miao Hua.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan