China: Xi’s Power Consolidation in PLA

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is facing a purge after senior officers were removed from the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament. This purge includes personnel from elite military establishments and the defense-industrial complex.

The removal includes Lieutenant General Zhang Zhenzhong and Rao Wenmin, who worked in the Central Military Commission (CMC) overseeing defense services. Other notable figures include General Zhou Yaning and his successor, General Li Yuchao, who oversee the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

Technocrats like Wu Yansheng, Wang Changqing, and Liu Shiquan were also removed from the People’s Political Consultative Conference. The Communist Party of China’s top leadership has been churned, with former Defence Minister Li Shangfu and former Foreign Minister Qin Gang not appearing publicly. This sudden change of leadership was also observed in the Rocket Force.

The purge has led to a heightened narrative on financial turpitude in China, with the PLA Daily warning of the dangers of corruption and President Xi Jinping urging auditors to scrutinize the workings of top officials in industry, technology, and finance.

In October 2022, President Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of building a world-class military and accelerating projects related to defence-related science and technology, armaments, and equipment. China’s defence budget increased by 7.2% in the previous year, reaching $122 billion, but this has not significantly improved the PLA’s combat capabilities.

A CPC report in the People’s Daily found “glaring shortcomings” in the Rocket Force units responsible for conventional and nuclear missiles. US intelligence agencies have also found corruption within the PLA and its military-industrial establishment to have impaired China’s defence preparedness.

The CMC, the army’s highest decision-making authority, has called for greater transparency and emphasized the importance of quality in acquisition and research units. Zhang Youxia emphasized providing better-quality provisions, improving quality control processes, and upgrading systems.

The CPC follows the Maoist dictum that the “Party must command the gun,” seeking the loyalty of its generals. The PLA has representation in China’s decision-making bodies, with two PLA generals on the Politburo and around 20% of the Central Committee’s military establishment.

The immediate families of the CPC elite, including senior Chinese leaders Deng Xiaoping, Ye Jianying, and Yang Shangkun, have significant stakes in China’s defence industrial complex. The interlocking power structures and political system in China contribute to corruption.

The CPC has attempted to address this issue by implementing guidelines for cadres to disclose business activities of their immediate family and relatives. However, the meshing of interests between political and military elites has made it difficult to eradicate corruption within the defence-production system.

Conventional thinking within the CPC was that sustained financial allocations into priority fields would help achieve its goals. However, Xi’s recent conclave of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection suggests that investigators should focus on weeding out corruption from areas like state-owned enterprises. He has also signaled the priority to crush collusion between business interests and the political establishment, indicating his anti-corruption campaign will gain momentum.

The strained dynamics between Xi and PLA leadership may have contributed to the ongoing standoff and troop build-up on the India-China border. However, the rejig indicates that by being tough on graft, Xi is overhauling PLA’s combat capabilities for future battles.

ChinaChina: Xi's Power Consolidation in PLAChinese President Xi JinpingPeople Liberation Army (PLA)People's Liberation Army (PLA)PLAXi Jinping