Friday, Oct 24, 2014, 7:08 AM CST – China

Politics

Military Rectification Campaign

TOUGH TALK

The People’s Liberation Army’s self-imposed rectification campaign is pushing further than ever into what was once sacred ground, cutting the army’s access to luxuries, military license plates and even investigating real estate holdings. Will it be effective in curbing corruption?

On November 5th, four days prior to the opening of the Third Plenum of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), China’s military released a high-profile document outlining “the latest progress in military rectification.”

According to the PLA Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Central Military Commission (CMC), rectification has “achieved preliminary success.” More than 8,100 “illegitimate real estate holdings” had been “cleared up,” and 25,000 illegally acquired vehicles seized.

In recent years, China’s media and the public have increased their scrutiny of the previously off-limits and hugely powerful military, reporting on corruption and disciplinary violations. Illegally registered military vehicles appropriated for the private use of army officials have become a particular target of scorn as the government has rolled out limits on urban residents’ access to license plates. “Luxury cars with military license plates are increasingly seen parked outside expensive restaurants. It makes the public angry,” said one PLA insider who asked to remain anonymous.

While corruption in China’s military has long been an open secret, it is only in recent years that the Party has voiced willingness to crack down. In November 2012, as Xi Jinping assumed the post of Chairman of the CMC, a large-scale military rectification campaign was rolled out.

In December 2012, the CMC released its “10 regulations,” putting strict controls on vehicle use, and introducing a blanket ban on the use of military funds to purchase expensive liquor and pay for lavish banquets. Five months later, all military vehicles received new license plates, while officials were prohibited from fixing military plates to luxury cars. A former military driver of a retired high-level military officer told NewsChina that a great number of luxury cars have been mothballed since the new rules were introduced.

In June 2013, the CMC ordered an inspection of all real estate owned by military personnel, claiming to target those who had acquired large real estate holdings through abuse of their positions. In August, the General Political Department of the PLA released new regulations on the privileges afforded to military personnel.

A retired high-level officer formerly of the Lanzhou Military Region told NewsChina that, in June, he returned his apartment to the military.

Analysts have credited Xi Jinping, who is said to have a stronger connection to China’s military leaders than his predecessor, with masterminding the rectification campaign to curb the army’s so-called “peacetime habits,” which military observers claim have affected its battle-readiness. On the same day the announcement in the PLA Daily, Xi re-emphasized the “Dream of a Strong Military” in an address delivered during an inspection of the National University of Defense Technology.

Many now believe the initial campaign is merely an overture to a vast and unprecedented overhaul of the country’s most powerful institution.

Operations

“The inveterate habits the army has formed during peacetime are hazardous,” Professor Liu Mingfu of the National University of Defense Technology told NewsChina. According to Liu, war games, intended to train battle-ready troops, are increasingly treated as “performances” to satisfy senior officials. Liu pointed to examples such as a catering corps that continued to cook after being “wiped out” in an enemy strike, and a Chinese soldier armed with a single RPG destroying 10 enemy tanks in a single shot.

“You often read about these situations in the newspapers,” he said.

The Nanjing Military Region’s former Deputy Commander Wang Hongguang has written several articles critical of the tendency towards image over substance in military circles, including one entitled “The Courage and Uprightness of the Army shall be Further Trained in Peacetime” that stated “the military is gradually becoming lax and effeminate.”

Wang has openly criticized the military’s field training methods, which long ago replaced makeshift front-line camps with fully-stocked concrete compounds, complete with electricity and plumbing. He pointed out that some senior and middle level command posts even feature air-conditioning in their field camps, and use civilian channels for communications. Despite trumpeting their “foolproof” security protocols, Wang added, an entire “baggage train” of hawkers and peddlers typically attaches itself to all military columns, undermining security and getting troops accustomed to having home comforts close at hand.

To make China’s war games seem more real, casualties sustained during live-fire exercises are no longer classified. Recently, reports of the accidental death of a marine during an exercise named “Seal 2013” appeared in domestic media, a rare occurrence in China, where the authorities typically censor such reports.

Liu Mingfu believes that Xi Jinping has taken the reins at a crucial time in Chinese military history. On March 1, 2013, Xi stated in a military briefing that his aim was to “make the Army comply with the Party, be battle-ready and maintain discipline.”

Analysts say that Xi’s idea of military rectification is rooted in his own military experience, when he served from 1979 to 1982 as secretary of the CMC Office, at a time when China had just begun its program of Reform and Opening-up, and the Party shifted focus away from the military and towards the economy. In fact, many army divisions began to engage in construction work, building infrastructure to support China’s expanding economy. “He [Xi] has a clear understanding of the habits formed in the army since the military began to participate in economic construction,” said Liu. “Therefore he has a sharp eye for the problems, and is acting accordingly.”

Since assuming control of the military as its de facto Commander in Chief, Xi has engaged in frequent inspections of all China’s major military jurisdictions, as well as the Second Artillery, Air Force, Navy and armed police divisions. More controversially, he also ordered the military to “flex its muscles” in disputed territory such as the border with India, around the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands and in the South China Sea.

Party organs are already claiming that discipline has improved since Xi’s ascension. The PLA Daily examined the habits of political officers when on tours of inspection, claiming that one commissar in Shenyang “embarrassed” underlings during a visit by insisting on lodging in a simple hotel and eating basic meals.

“In the past, officers were housed in luxury hotels, with high-profile receptions,” said a retired military officer of the Ningxia Military Region, speaking anonymously. He added that the rectification campaign has led to improvements in discipline and efficiency.

Rule of Law

In an apparent effort to reinforce the Party’s commitment to cleaning up the military, several high-profile officials have been removed from their posts. In February 2012, the former Deputy Minister of the PLA General Logistics Department was removed for corruption offences. Prior to that, a former Deputy Navy Commander named Wang Shouye also resigned, allegedly under pressure over illicit activities.

Analysts believe Xi Jinping is willing to tackle egregious corruption in the military, though opinion is divided on whether he will be able to fully bring the army to heel.

After adopting new license plate regulations, the CMC began to investigate infrastructure and real estate spending in the military, with a full-scale inspection launched in June 2013. Xi appointed General Logistics Minister Zhao Keshi to chair the investigation.

Despite an unusual level of publicity afforded to the campaign, as with anything involving the Chinese military, only successes are being reported, with most of the details remaining off-limits to media and public scrutiny. Corruption cases against military officials are notoriously hard to pursue, due to the extremely close and opaque connection between the Party and the army.

Perhaps to give the campaign an aura of semi-independence, on October 29, 2013, Xi Jinping published a file entitled “Decisions Regarding the Inspection Work of the Central Military Committee,” a document seen as an outline of his general strategy for establishing an inspection system in the military. While largely overlooked by the foreign press, this document marks the first time in history that any Party leader has even hinted at a full-scale inspection of working practices in the Chinese military, which has been largely left to its own devices since Liberation in 1949. However, the military will seemingly remain responsible for policing itself, with Xu Qiliang, the CMC’s Deputy Chairman, appointed leader of the inspection team.

On May 2, 2013, the PLA Daily reported that leaders of the Fourth Headquarters of the PLA had openly promised to inspect the commercial activities of their family members and staff, keeping them from involvement in construction projects and the acquisition of materiel. More recent reports claimed that the private secretaries of all China’s senior military leaders had been discharged as part of the campaign, which, if true, marks a major shift in standard practice.

Despite the fuss made in the State media, however, analysts have continued to argue for more sweeping reforms in the military, exploring a greater variety of judicial processes in order to root out abuses. For now, at least, the public are continuing to scrutinize China’s most powerful, and shadowy, institution.

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