“This part of the PLA would have the most rigorous vetting process for senior officers, given the importance of having highly trusted men in charge of China’s nuclear weapons,” said Dennis Wilder, senior fellow for the Initiative for US-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University.
“Moreover, it seems to have involved several senior men rather than one ‘bad apple’.”
Analysts say the purge of senior military leaders could leave the Rocket Force temporarily weakened until Xi manages to put the house in order.
“The strategic nuclear force is what China relies on as the bottom line of its national security, and the last resort on Taiwan,” said Yun Sun, Director of the China Program at the Stimson Center, a Washington DC-based thinktank.
“It will take some time for China to clean up the mess and restore confidence in the Rocket Force’s competence and trustworthiness. It means for the time being, China is at a weaker spot.”
Sun described Xi’s campaign to stamp out military corruption as a Sisyphean task “that can never be completed”.
FIGHT AND WIN BATTLES?
In the longer run, analysts expect the chronic problem of corruption to persist in the Chinese military because some root causes, including low pay for officers and opacity in military expenditure, have not been addressed.
Chen Daoyin, formerly an associate professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said that the ongoing crackdown might dissuade Xi from risking serious clashes with other militaries in the next 5 to 10 years.
“Before realising how rampant corruption was, he drank his Kool-Aid and thought the military can really ‘fight and win battles’ as expected by him,” said Chen, who is now a political commentator based in Chile.
“But how can the generals’ hearts be in fighting, if they are just busy lining their own pockets? Xi now knows that their proclamations of loyalty to the party and to the military ring hollow. I imagine this would zap his confidence somewhat.”
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