The Chinese Communist Party’s dramatic expulsion of a former top general — the most senior figure to fall in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign — is an assertion of political control over the powerful and wealthy military, analysts say.
Xu Caihou, former vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission and until two years ago a member of the ruling party’s elite 25-strong Politburo, was stripped of his party membership on Monday and his case was handed over to prosecutors.
The 71-year-old is the highest-ranking Chinese military officer to face trial in decades.
The authorities’ move to pursue charges against him — despite reports that he is dying of bladder cancer — is intended to send the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) a clear message, analysts said.
The PLA’s influence in domestic affairs has waned since the days of Communist China’s founding father Mao Zedong, but it remains a political force to be reckoned with and has at the same time built up a vast network of business interests.
Xi presided over the meeting that decided to expel Xu, the official news agency Xinhua stressed.
The expulsion “definitively puts to rest any notion that Xi is not fully in command of the CCP and its military”, according to Christopher Johnson, the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS in Washington.
The announcement made explicit reference to Xu enabling the buying of military office, he pointed out, suggesting “Xi and his civilian peers are keen to send a message concerning the party’s control of the military”.
“The accusation goes right to the heart of the PLA’s loyalty to the CCP and its role as the ultimate guarantor of party rule,” he wrote in an analysis.Authorities have not yet released full details of the accusations against Xu, but some reports state that according to military officers briefed on the case, he and his family members received tens of millions of yuan in bribes.
China’s military spending has seen double-digit annual increases in recent years, with the official 2013 defence budget reaching $119.5 billion, according to Beijing — far eclipsing the expenditure of neighbours including Russia ($69.5 billion), Japan ($56.9 billion) and India ($39.2 billion), although still well below the US’s $495.5 billion.