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Chinese Military Scandal Seen Delaying Conflict in Taiwan, SC Sea

A huge graft scandal, which has caused a big purge of officers in the PLA, is likely to set back conflict in Taiwan or the South China Sea, analysts say

Xi Jinping walks with military officials in Yan'an, in Shaanxi province in June (China Daily 29 June 2024).


News last week that China’s two former defence ministers face prosecution for their involvement in huge corruption scandal could have significant implications for Beijing’s ambition to take over Taiwan – and further parts of the South China Sea.

Analysts believe the charging of Li Shangfu and Wei Fenghe and their expulsion from the Chinese Communist Party – announced by the Defence Ministry on June 27 – has “likely crippled Beijing’s ambitions to invade Taiwan or go to war with the US and Philippines” in the South China Sea in the near-term, according to a report by Asia Sentinel, which quoted Dr Willy Lam, a former Hong Kong analyst and author now with the Jamestown Foundation, a US think tank, who said there was “quite a big purge going on in the upper echelons of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army].”

“A wrong-footed invasion means not only loss of life but also loss of the generals’ salaries and privileges,” Lam said, adding that recent events had shown a “lack of sophistication of Chinese submarines, naval vessels, fighters and aircraft carriers”, which allegedly shocked Chinese President Xi Jinping “and now he lacks the guts for a full-scale confrontation with the US military.”


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Dozens of senior officers had been arrested since Li was dismissed last October, and the bulk of China’s Rocket Force was corrupt, Lam alleged, adding that the ongoing probe into equipment procurement “shows that PLA weapons may not be up to scratch and no match for the Americans, or even the Japanese in terms of equipment efficacy; this is one factor forcing Xi to postpone the invasion of Taiwan.”

An analyst with Cercius Group, a geopolitical consultancy in Canada was quoted as saying that audits and investigations would delay any military action in the South China Sea, and lead to more reshuffling, which would also “cause severe setbacks to Xi’s Taiwan agenda.”

The dramatic downfall of the two most senior generals over the past six years (Wei, 70, was defence minister from 2018 to 2023) and turmoil in the upper ranks of the PLA was also reported by CNN on Monday, which said analysts had noted long-running problems in military procurement.

The problem is highly sensitive, as it shows Xi’s high-profile anti-graft campaign has failed, it said, while an academic in Singapore noted that a vow by a senior Central Military Commission general in March to crack down on “fake military capabilities” was quickly taken down from public view.


‘Systemic corruption dating to 1980s’

Asian crime reporter Martin Purbrick said on Monday that systemic corruption in the Chinese military can be traced back to 1980s when Deng Xiaoping cut spending and diverted funding to agriculture, industry, science and technology, while encouraging the PLA to play a more active economic role. China Poly Group and China North Industries Corporation (Norinco) were set up at that time and have since become huge conglomerates.

By the turn of the century, the PLA was reported to have around 600 agricultural companies, and also was engaged in property development, textiles, mining, telecommunications, vehicle production, hotel management, medical care, pharmaceuticals (with around 400 factories), trading and construction, he said, in a column published on Substack.

So, the endemic corruption was “not suprprising” given “military officers have been engaged in commercial activities to raise funding for military purposes and the lines between professional military and business have blurred beyond recognition,” Purbrick said.

“The legacy of this is now apparent with senior PLA officers unable to separate their military and commercial activities, or perhaps even to be able to recognise that what they are doing is corrupt.”


  • Jim Pollard



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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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