China Expels Two Former Defense Ministers for Corruption

Liu Rui/Xinhua via AP, File

China, specifically, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has expelled three former Defense Ministers from the CCP due to accusations of corruption. 

The two may face life prison sentences.

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The Defense Ministry on Thursday said Li Shangfu had abused his authority to enrich himself by taking bribes in exchange for granting favors in violation of military and party discipline. Li’s predecessor, Wei Fenghe, was also accused on similar charges. 

Such charges have been leveled in the past against many military leaders under the rule of President and party leader Xi Jinping, who also heads the armed forces as chairman of the Central Military Commission and has made a crackdown on corruption a hallmark of his rule since taking power more than a decade ago. 

Chairman Xi has been having some trouble dialing the Chinese military in, even as he seems to be driving China towards a much more aggressive foreign policy.


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This may be a move intended to help with the issues the Chinese military arms have been dealing with; a couple of high-profile prosecutions of high-ranking officials send a rather Machiavellian message, that being "the fun times are ending."

Insiders have alleged a widespread purge of officers suspected of conspiring with outside forces or simply being insufficiently loyal to Xi. High-ranking officers occupy an elevated position in Chinese politics and can command extensive privileges.

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The problem facing China's military is that it's bigger on paper than it is in real life. They have the world's largest navy, but lack at-sea replenishment forces that would enable their navy to project power; they can threaten, for example, Taiwan or Japan, but not the west coast of the United States. Their army is large and fairly well-equipped, but untested; China has not been involved in a conflict since the Korean War.

China has the world’s largest standing military, its biggest navy, and a rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal, but it has not been tested in warfare in half a century. The military has a highly politicized and bureaucratic structure led by Xi as head of the party’s Central Military Commission, with the defense minister playing a subsidiary role with few contacts with counterparts from foreign nations.

Equipment and logistics are a problem for China, as well as training; corruption by senior officials can further degrade any efforts at readiness. The norm in Communist countries has historically been to deal quietly with corruption in senior leaders unless a very specific message is being sent, and this sure looks like this is one of those; slam a couple of corrupt senior defense officials in the pokey, pour encourager les autres.

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The United States could take one lesson from this on rooting out corruption in our own government - within the Constitution, of course, but even so. This is not a problem unique to Communist China.

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