Following the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress held this Sunday, October 16, the Chinese leader reaffirmed his anti-corruption campaign within the People’s Liberation Army and stated that PLA members will receive more “political and ideological education.”
Since Xi Jinping came to power, he has maintained a clean-up and anti-corruption campaign within the Communist party, including several top military commanders, and initiated the restructuring of the PLA.
The Chinese leader removed influential military officials and added new members to important commands, mostly younger than their predecessors and without direct experience of violent socialist movements, such as in the Mao Zedong era.
In Xi’s words, China’s military forces must modernize, and this cannot be achieved with weak, corrupt, and leaderless commanders, the officers in charge, must have “the ability to lead soldiers to fight and win battles.”
In 2015, the Chinese leader implemented a campaign for military members to lose their privileges to ply their trade in civilian society.
The PLA enjoyed special conditions and favors that allowed it to do million-dollar business under the protection of CCP leaders. Between the 1990s and 2000s, these businesses “prospered” rapidly, dragging many military officials into corrupt and illicit, even criminal, deals. Trafficking in human organs for transplants is one of the shady businesses in which members of the Chinese military were involved. By controlling prisoners of conscience and their health conditions, the PLA maintained constant access to persons deprived of their liberty to harvest their organs while they were alive. Military hospitals, institutions, and army doctors were involved in these procedures.
Corruption within the Chinese military advanced rapidly under the leadership of Jiang Zemin, who is now behind one of the factions vying for power within the Communist Party.
It is to be expected that Xi Jinping will continue to lead efforts to shore up the PLA from within and secure the loyalty of all levels of the military.
Taiwan, in Xi’s sights
During the Chinese leader’s speech at the 20th Congress, the importance of a “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan was highlighted, although without renouncing the “use of force.”
According to the working report, “peaceful unification and ‘one country, two systems’ is the best way to achieve cross-strait unification.”
Xi’s position on Taiwan is not as clear or definitive as it seems. Despite constant military exercises in the Taiwan Strait and statements by senior CCP officials to that effect, the Chinese leader is reportedly more concerned with achieving rapid military modernization and winning its loyalty.
According to analysts, Xi’s statements suggest that Beijing would be exercising restraint concerning Taiwan. “For example, I expected Xi to link reunification to concrete targets such as 2035 or 2049, but he didn’t,” said Chen Jie, a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Western Australia. “In other words, it is still an unknown how Taiwan can fit into [Xi’s] national rejuvenation vision.”
According to several U.S. specialists and military officials, the PLA would not be prepared to advance on Taiwan. This could be one of the reasons behind Xi’s insistence on upgrading the Chinese military to become a top-tier military force.
In addition, the Zero-COVID policy is threatening to disrupt the social order. Since December 2021, Chinese society has shown signs of mass discontent on social media. Videos of citizen protests against prolonged confinements in various regions of China went viral, passed the Great Firewall of the Chinese Internet, and the Western world witnessed the brutality of the communist regime.
For this reason, one of the first orders given this year by Xi to the PLA was to deploy in areas with social instability. The leader wanted to ensure that the Chinese would not show too much discontent during the months of waiting until the holding of the 20th CCP Congress.
Despite the mobilization of troops, Chinese videos continued to go viral in the West. Several media outlets also reported the situation in Xinjiang and Tibet.
“Ensuring political and ideological education”
In the working document of the 20th Congress, the achievements made thanks to the anti-corruption campaign are highlighted. For Xi, this campaign is a “self-directed revolution” to help the Communist Party escape the “historical cycle of the rise and fall of the government” and ensure its power.
In addition, the report notes that the armed forces should establish a comprehensive political education system and ensure that the PLA is a loyal armed force under Xi Jinping’s command.
“[We should] speed up the establishment of the party’s [ideological] organization system in the armed forces, promoting the normalization and institutionalization of political education and persistently push forward the anti-corruption campaign,” Xi Jinping said in his speech last Sunday.
According to a Chinese Defense Ministry report, the Chinese military was under an “ideological political education” campaign from May to September. This apparently targeted middle-ranking military posts because they were reluctant to obey the orders of the anti-corruption campaign.
A retired People’s Liberation Army lieutenant colonel, Zeng Zhiping, said, “Xi believes the PLA could play the role of a “political stabilizer in China, especially when it needs to address so many problems at home and abroad.”
After the new PLA and Politburo members are promoted, it will become clearer what the political strategy of Xi Jinping’s new term is.