HomeCorruptionChina's Military Purges: Modernize the Military? Or Just Save Xi's Rear End?

China’s Military Purges: Modernize the Military? Or Just Save Xi’s Rear End?

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China is witnessing a significant shift in its military dynamics, marked by a widespread purge of high-ranking officers from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This purge is said to be part of President Xi Jinping’s rigorous anti-corruption campaign, aimed at consolidating power and streamlining the military.

But our sources hint at an alternative explanation, perhaps Xi realizes he is surrounded by ambitious men he cannot trust who may wish to depose him. They say that Xi’s position becomes more tenuous as time goes by, not nearly as solid as is presented to the world. The question is whether even Xi’s replacements can be trusted.

Xi Jinping’s purported reason is to modernize China’s military by the middle of the century. This modernization drive is crucial for China to assert its growing global influence and maintain its strategic interests. However, this path to modernization faces substantial roadblocks, primarily due to the entrenched issue of corruption within the military ranks. The recent expulsion of nine generals and three defense technology officials from a top Chinese Communist Party advisory body is a stark indicator of this challenge. Significantly, the focus has been on the Rocket Force, the branch overseeing China’s missile program, which is vital for China’s national security and its strategic posture, particularly regarding Taiwan.

The purge of these high-ranking officers is not just a simple act of disciplinary action but a strategic move that indicates a deeper cleansing within the military ranks. Yun Sun, a notable expert on Chinese foreign policy at the Stimson Center, highlighted the gravity of this situation. She noted that the strategic nuclear force is crucial for China’s national security, especially concerning Taiwan, suggesting that the purge could temporarily weaken China’s military position.

The issue of corruption in the PLA is not a new phenomenon. It has been a chronic problem, with previous efforts to address it often meeting resistance within the military establishment. This systemic corruption poses a significant risk to China’s ambitions of catching up militarily with leading global powers like the United States. As noted by Wen-Ti Sung from the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, the removal of these officials could potentially create instability among the political leadership.

This extensive purge has wide-reaching implications. It affects not just the immediate readiness and operational effectiveness of the PLA but also raises questions about the long-term impact on China’s broader military strategies. The replacement of the defense minister and other high-ranking officials could indicate a shift in China’s military focus or a response to internal power dynamics.

The Chinese government’s lack of transparency on these personnel changes adds another layer of complexity. While President Xi has emphasized the importance of anti-corruption measures in the military, the specifics of these high-level political maneuvers remain largely opaque. This lack of clarity fuels speculation about the extent of corruption and the nature of the power struggle within the upper echelons of the PLA.

While we would like to think that the Chinese Communist Party is in chaos and may fall, this is far from clear. Will Xi fall and China balkanize into a dozen different countries? Or will the usual happen, where a totalitarian leader falls and an even worse one takes his place? But China at the moment is like the proverbial duck on a pond, above the water all seems calm, but underneath the legs are pumping furiously.

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