Gen. Xu Caihou and his family members received money and gifts, investigators say
Xu was a former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission
He is the most senior military leader to face corruption charges in recent memory
Xu is one of four senior members to be expelled from the ruling Communist Party
In the latest sign of his resolve to fight widespread official corruption, Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over a leadership meeting Monday to expel four senior members from the ruling Communist Party, including a retired top general of the two million-strong People’s Liberation Army.
Gen. Xu Caihou, a former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission that runs the world’s largest standing army, was found to have accepted bribes, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. Xu was also a member of the country’s elite decision-making body, the Politburo, before retiring in late 2012.
The official probe into Xu, 71, started in March and Party investigators have found evidence of him and his family members receiving money and gifts from others, according to Xinhua. Xu’s case would be handed over to prosecutors for a court martial, making him the most senior military leader to face corruption charges in recent memory.
In a statement released after Monday’s Politburo meeting, President Xi and other Chinese leaders reiterated their “zero tolerance” for corruption in the government and military – long a lightning rod for mass discontent across the country – but they also acknowledged the anti-graft task would be “ongoing, complex and formidable.”
The three other former senior officials ousted from the Communist Party for corruption were Jiang Jiemin, a former minister in charge of state assets; Li Dongsheng, a former vice minister of public security; and Wang Yongchun, a former deputy head of state-owned oil behemoth China National Petroleum Corporation.
‘Tigers and flies’
The announcement on Xu came on the heels of the downfall of Su Rong, a former vice chairman of China’s top political advisory body. Su, once a “state leader” in the official hierarchy, was formally removed from his post last Wednesday over serious corruption allegations.
State media has characterized Xu as a big “military tiger” caught in the massive anti-graft campaign launched by President Xi, who is also the commander-in-chief. After becoming the head of the Communist Party in late 2012, Xi banned official extravagance – from banquets to year-end gifts – and vowed to target “tigers and flies” alike in his fight against corruption when describing his resolve to spare no one regardless of their position.
Xinhua recently touted the catching of 30 “tigers” since Xi took power less than two years ago.
Some China watchers have noted ties between an increasing number of disgraced officials to Zhou Yongkang, the former domestic security czar who has been rumored to be under investigation for some time. Jiang, Li and Wang in Monday’s announcement have long been considered Zhou protégés.
State media has reported official probes into many of Zhou’s family members as well as former associates in the domestic security apparatus, state oil industry and southwestern Sichuan Province – three places Zhou once ruled. If announced, Zhou would become the highest-ranking official ever to face corruption charges in the history of the People’s Republic.
In 2013, some 182,000 officials were disciplined while courts nationwide tried 23,000 corruption cases, according to the Communist Party’s disciplinary commission. State media has cited the trial and conviction last year of former high-flying politician Bo Xilai – though called politically motivated by Bo supporters – as one prime example of President Xi’s determination to clean up the Party.
Longtime China observers, however, point to the limits of President Xi’s war on corruption.
“Corruption is so widespread and so endemic that campaigns are just not going do it,” said Frank Ching, a Hong Kong-based commentator and columnist on Chinese politics. “Something has to be done about the system.”
“There have been public calls for a law to require officials disclosing their assets. There has been no indication that they are going to do that. In fact, a number of people calling for this law have ended up in prison,” he added.
“I think people will be much more convinced of the seriousness of this anti-corruption campaign if there were a move to enact such a law.”