All of them were Xi Jinping’s trusted and favorite people. But, it seems that now they are all disappearing.
The sudden disappearance of several top Chinese officials in recent months has fueled speculation whether Xi Jinping has launched a ‘cleansing campaign’. Especially the pruning of those people who have been associated with the army.
The latest example of top Chinese officials disappearing in disgrace is Defense Minister Li Shangfu. He has not been seen in any public program for the last several months.
Initially, Shangfu’s disappearance was not considered unusual. But, when a senior American diplomat pointed out the disappearance of China’s Defense Minister, the investigation intensified.
Later, a report by news agency Reuters said that an investigation was underway against General Li Shangfu regarding the purchase of military equipment. General Shangfu was previously responsible for purchasing military equipment for the People’s Liberation Army.
Just weeks before General Shangfu’s disappearance, two senior officers of the Rocket Force, the Chinese military unit responsible for nuclear missiles, and a military court judge were removed from their posts.
Now the latest speculation is that an investigation is also being conducted against some officials of the Central Military Commission of the Communist Party of China, which controls the country’s military forces.
Apart from ‘health reasons’, China has not given any reason for the dismissal of these officers. Due to lack of any information, the market of speculation is hot.
According to the speculation that is being discussed the most, the Chinese government is running a campaign against corruption in the People’s Liberation Army.
The Chinese army is very alert. In the month of July, PLA had made a very unusual appeal.
The Chinese Army had requested the public that if they have information about any case of corruption during the last five years, then they should give it to the Army.
Corruption or war for political control?
President Xi Jinping has also started an investigation into the army. According to BBC Monitoring’s investigation, since April, Jinping has made five visits to inspect military bases across the country.
Dr. James Char, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, says that corruption has been a major challenge in China’s military. Especially since China started liberalization of the economy in the 1970s.
Every year, China spends one trillion yuan on its armies. A large part of this goes towards purchasing military equipment. Due to national security reasons, complete details of this purchase cannot be made public.
James Char, who has studied the relationship between China’s military and the Communist Party, says that this lack of transparency is further complicated by China’s centralized one-party system.
He explains the reason for this by saying that in other countries, armies are publicly scrutinized a lot. At the same time, the monitoring of China’s military forces is solely in the hands of the Communist Party.
Xi Jinping has succeeded to some extent in controlling corruption within his country’s military, and he has succeeded to some extent in restoring the prestige of the army.
But, Dr. James Char says, “Eradicating corruption is a very difficult task, if not impossible.” Because for this, “there will have to be institutional changes in the structure of the army. And I don’t think any dictatorial country will be ready for this.”
He says, “Unless the Communist Party of China government is ready to implement a proper legal system, I do not think corruption will be controlled. Therefore, such cleanliness drives will continue in the army. “
Deepening mental fear?
But today, when China is trying to manage its complicated relations with America, the sudden disappearance of its top officials is also being seen as a deepening mental fear within the Communist Party.
In the month of July, China had implemented a comprehensive law to stop spying.
In this law, officials were given more powers to investigate people holding high positions.
Soon after, China’s Ministry of State Security publicly appealed to the general public to help the government combat espionage activities within the country.
The disappearance of General Li Shangfu is similar to the sudden disappearance of Foreign Minister Xi Jinping.
When he was dismissed from the post of Foreign Minister in the month of July, the market of speculation became very hot.
This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Chin Gang is being investigated in America for his affair. He also had a child from this relationship.
China affairs analyst Bill Bishop says, “Extramarital affairs are not a barrier to a leader joining the elite ranks of the Communist Party. But having an affair with someone who has ties to an intelligence agency can be dangerous.” Yes. And then you also have a child with her, who is a citizen of your political rival country.”
There is also speculation that Xi Jinping is running this cleaning campaign due to internal pressure from the Communist Party. Because, after the Covid-19 epidemic, the situation of China’s economy is shaky, and unemployment is continuously increasing.
Under China’s political system, Xi Jinping is not just the President of the country. He is also the supreme leader of the army.
From one perspective, the disappearance of senior ministers one after the other is also a sign of the instability of Xi Jinping’s leadership.
Observers say that General Lee and Chin Gang were not just ministers.
He was Xi Jinping’s favorite leader and also held a high position among the State Counselors of China. Therefore, his sudden fall like this is also raising questions on the decision-making power of the Chinese President.
If we see such disappearance of big ministers as a political cleansing campaign, then this also brings Jinping’s leadership ability under question.
Because, just last year, Jinping had increased his power in the Party Congress, sidelined potential rivals, and filled all the important committees running the country with his loyalists.
But, another point of view is that this cleaning campaign is a show of power of Xi Jinping.
Xi Jinping himself is the son of an official of the Communist Party of China who was removed as part of the cleanliness drive.
He is known for his public campaigns against corruption. Observers say that by running a campaign against corrupt officials, Jinping also eliminates his enemies.
After Chairman Mao Zedong, no other Chinese leader has taken action on such a large scale as Jinping.
Campaign is going on on a large scale
Over the past several years, Jinping is said to have taken action against thousands of party leaders. Along with senior officials, lower level employees have also been the target of his anti-corruption campaign.
He started this with the ‘Tigers and Flies’ campaign soon after assuming power in 2013.
In 2017, Jinping targeted the military forces and dismissed more than a hundred officers.
At that time, China’s state news agency Xinhua had reported that “the number of people removed was more than the generals killed in the war, so that a new China could be built.”
But, the biggest question is what signals are being given by the sudden disappearance of big ministers? And, what will be its effect in the end?
Observers say that these actions will create an atmosphere of fear in the Chinese army and government.
It is possible that Jinping is taking these steps to get his point across. But, this will also demoralize the officers.
The action being taken over the years against officials who are no longer his favourites, and the appointment of his followers to all high positions, means that Jinping has gathered a group of sycophants around himself.
Dr. James Char says, “The biggest threat to Jinping’s leadership is this army of yes-men. Because, if everyone has the same thinking, then it will have a negative impact on China’s national security and foreign policy.”
The incidents of disappearance of senior officials in China are happening at a time when tensions with Taiwan are increasing. In recent weeks, China has sent a large number of warships and fighter planes to its border to intimidate Taiwan.
opaque political system
Ian Chong, non-resident fellow at the Carnegie China think tank, says any disruption in foreign policy and defense diplomacy would be “particularly worrying” because it “could lead to disaster”, and “It will become more challenging to control the rising tension in Surat.”
However, other experts believe that China’s military leadership is strong enough to withstand the shock of the removal of some officers.
Observers also point out that the Chinese military has been behaving in a very carefully controlled manner even after coming close to the brink of war.
Still, some other experts say the disappearance of top officials will have far-reaching implications for Xi Jinping’s leadership and China’s stability.
Neil Thomas, an expert on China’s elite politics at the Asia Society Policy Institute, says, “Of all the officials who have been prosecuted so far, none has been close to Jinping.”
Well, one thing most observers agree on is that these incidents highlight how opaque China’s political system is.
Carnegie’s Dr. Ian Chong says, “The disappearance of the ministers sharpens the question about whether there will be consistency in China’s policy implementation? And, what is China’s credibility in keeping the promises it has made?” He gave it to the rest of the world?”
Ultimately, the incidents of disappearance of these top officials have further increased the uneasiness towards China.