China’s military is going through some growing pains. As the country ramps up recruitment, international visibility and funding, the central government has simultaneously been zeroing in on rooting out corruption within the People’s Liberation Army, a problem that many believe is preventing the military from reaching its full capabilities. However, some analysts believe the problem goes much deeper.
In the beginning of June, the PLA announced that two more military officers were being investigated for graft, bringing the current total military investigations to 35. These are just the latest in a series of crackdowns that began in 2013. According to the PLA Daily, 4,024 officers with the rank of lieutenant colonel or higher have been investigated for various corruption charges since 2013.
The latest officers to fall to corruption charges are Zhou Minggui and Fu Yi. Zhou, 58, is the deputy director of Nanjing’s politics department, where he serves as political chief and ranks as a major general. Fu, 62, who is also a major general, is the former commander of the military in the coastal Zhejiang province.
China’s military has been at the forefront of several ongoing national reforms. In addition to economic and environmental overhauls, President Xi Jinping has prioritized creating a strong military to solidify China’s status as a global power.
In general, investigations have hit military logistics offices the hardest because they have proven to be a hotbed of government funds misuse. These offices are responsible for managing cash flow and funding for supplies, fuel and infrastructure construction. The corruption is so deep-seated that many analysts believe, if left unresolved, it is the biggest threat to China’s military power.
“No country can defeat China,” the PLA’s General Liu Yuan said in a speech in 2012. Liu Yuan, who was positioned at the General Logistics Department, was likely at the center of the ongoing corruption. “Only our own corruption can destroy us and cause our armed forces to be defeated without fighting.”
Internal issues such as bribery and misused funds are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to overhauling the PLA to be at peak operational readiness. Indeed, weeding out corruption is just one of the obstacles the military faces.
“Like the problem of corruption, the PLA leadership is well aware of the force’s operational shortcomings and is committed to identifying and solving problems in the PLA’s organizational structure, personnel qualifications, logistics system and training methods,” Lt. Col. Dennis J. Blasko, a retired U.S. military intelligence officer who specialized in China, wrote in a recent piece for defense news blog War on the Rocks.
“We should expect to see the PLA continue to clean its ranks as best it can of those who indulge in corrupt practices. However, there are many other problems facing the PLA that have a more immediate impact on its combat and deterrence capabilities.”