The upcoming prosecution of former Chinese military chief Guo Boxiong caps President Xi Jinpings three-year anticorruption campaign, a political maneuver that has led to the sacking and arrest of some 30,000 Communist Party officials, the fiercest purge since the Cultural Revolution.
Retired four-star general Guo, 73, who served as a vice chair of the Central Military Commission from 2002 to 2012, was expelled from the Party last year and put under investigation for alleged corruption. The commissions most senior military representative, he was therefore the most powerful officer in the Peoples Liberation Army. Military inspectors are wrapping up their inquiry, and in the next month or two a civilian court is expected to charge Guo with taking up to 80 million yuan ($12.3 million) in bribes in exchange for promoting underlings, according to sources close to the Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Central Military Commission.
Chinas military was quite corrupt before Xi launched his campaign, says a Beijing-based businessman whose relatives include senior PLA officers. Being promoted in the PLA often required giving economic benefits to ones superiors.
For example, in recent years some local garrison commanders began illegally charging recruits initiation fees of up to 100,000 yuan for preferential treatment, he explains. For a senior colonel to be promoted to the rank of general often required a bribe to his superior of no less than 5 million yuan.
A native of northwestern Shaanxi province, Guo began his army career in 1961 upon graduation from the PLAs Academy of Military Science in Beijing. After joining the Party in 1963, he rose through the ranks to become deputy commander of the Beijing Military Region and commander of the Lanzhou Military Region before being promoted to general in 1999. He was appointed to his Central Military Commission post by departing president Jiang Zemin, who chaired the commission from 1998 until 2005.
Guo sat atop a pyramid whereby he shared in commissions that lower-ranking officers earned for giving promotions, the businessman claims. The ex-general, who oversaw annual defense spending of 670 billion yuan in 2012, also allegedly benefited from his influential role in deciding which major Chinese defense contractors got lucrative contracts.
President Xis anticorruption drive began with lower-ranking Party officials and extended through the government bureaucracy, including state-owned banks and financial institutions, where Party members rule. It is culminating with a sweep of Chinas military, says Guan Anping, a Beijing-based lawyer and an unpaid adviser to the Chinese government on financial and economic reforms. A corrupt military is a military that cannot win wars. Corruption must be eliminated completely from the PLA. Otherwise Chinas own national security is at risk.
Guo is the highest-ranking general to be booted from the Party and arrested for corruption since the Communists gained control of China in 1949. Xi, who took power in 2012, has brought down dozens of top officials, including several members of the Politburo. Among them: Bo Xilai, an exParty chief for Chongqing; Zhou Yongkang, Chinas onetime head of national security; and general Xu Caihou, Guos deputy and another vice chair of the Central Military Commission.
Guo allegedly headed the so-called Northwest faction of dozens of PLA generals, say sources close to the Chinese military, who describe his purge as part of a broader effort to expunge such groups from the Party and the armed forces.
President Xi may seem to be dictatorial in getting rid of factions from the Party and concentrating power in his own hands, attorney Guan says. But he is getting rid of these factions because he wants to drive through economic and financial reforms.
Such factions hijacked Chinas economy and made it a haven for rent seeking, according to Guan, who says that, in the past, businesses had to pay bribes to key gatekeepers not only in government ministries but also in the PLA: Of course corruption still exists in some form and shape in China, but it is a far cry from the days when the likes of General Guo ruled Chinas military.
Follow Allen Cheng on Twitter at @acheng87.