Jul 09, 2014 06:49 PM

Leadership Must Rid Military of Corruption

The June 30 announcement that Xu Caihou will face charges for corruption was major news, undoubtedly some of the most important in recent times.

Speculation about Xu's fate had been rife since Gu Junshan, the former deputy logistics chief of the People's Liberation Army, was charged with bribery and embezzlement in March. Although Xu was widely expected to be the next to fall, the news still came as something of a shock. The 71-year-old top general was, after all, the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). This made him the most senior PLA officer to be caught for corruption in its long history – 87 years – and reflects the government's determination to catch the "tigers."

Xu has yet to be formally charged, but some details of his case have been published. By contrast, though Gu has been indicted, little has been revealed officially about his case. This reflects a growing level of transparency on the PLA's part.

In fact, it's possible to reconstruct how the military has conducted its recent crackdown on corruption.

From December 10 to March 13, teams of discipline inspection officers were sent to the Beijing and Jinan military commands on the orders of Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping. Officers reportedly found irregularities involving promotions, infrastructure construction, land transfers, housing sales and health care.

The central government ordered an investigation into Xu on March 15. On March 28, evidence of infractions was handed over to the CMC's anti-corruption office and party headquarters. Three days later, military prosecutors charged Gu with corruption, bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

In early May, the CMC published guidelines on rooting out and preventing corruption. Then on June 30, Xi chaired a Politburo meeting to hear the case against Xu, after which the top leaders decided to expel him from the party and handed this case to military prosecutors.

The speed of the anti-graft campaign has been breathtaking of late.

Corruption is perhaps inevitable in any society that is rapidly urbanizing and industrializing. That has been the experience of many advanced economies. To confront the problem, we must first acknowledge it, then resolve to root it out so China can be put on a path of healthy development.

The Chinese military must heed these words. Unfortunately, the very nature of its organization often works against such efforts. This includes traits such as the military's need for secrecy, and its emphasis on protocol and hierarchy.

In recent years, signs of corruption within the military have become harder to ignore, yet efforts to curb it have progressed in fits and starts. After the fall from grace of vice admiral Wang Shouye in 2006, there had been a lull – until recently. Gu was a case in point. He was detained in 2012, yet it took two years before his case was turned over to the prosecutors.

The military must uphold the highest discipline and standards, and there must be zero tolerance for corruption. Xu is the biggest tiger caught yet. The involvement of the highest levels of China's leadership in his case showed its determination to deny the corrupt a hiding place. This is a major victory for the fight against graft.

There's a price to pay of course, not least in terms of the military's reputation. Xu spent 51 years in the army, had been a senior officer for nearly 20 years and was CMC vice-chairman for nine years. Any bribery and abuse of power could be extensive and involve many other parties. Exposing these misdeeds could seriously stain the army's image.

But the costs of corruption are higher still. If graft is not checked, especially if it involves top-ranked officers like Xu, it would surely spread throughout the military. A corrupt army is a weak one. Cleaning it up is the only way to strengthen it.

Xu's sacking is a sign that the graft crackdown will get even more intense, and more heads will roll. In fact, leaders must ensure the campaign is broader in scope and more sustained.

In 1998, Beijing's orders for the military to divest its businesses acted as a dampener on corruption by cutting the opportunities for rent-seeking. But as recent examples show, graft is still rampant today. The military's rich assets and massive budget for infrastructure and procurement, to name but two areas, provide plenty of opportunities for abuse.

Without a healthy system of supervision of power, corruption will be inevitable.

On the same day of the announcement of Xu's sacking, the Politburo notably released guidelines to strengthen the system to enforce party discipline. We can only hope that in the days to come, the rule of law will provide the framework for such efforts.

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