18 April 2012

China Corruption Makes World News; PLA Rotting from Within

While China's Prime Minister calls for "an end to corruption" in the ranks of China's top leadership, remarks by insider General Liu Yuan point an accusatory finger at China's military leadership.
There is no way to independently verify Liu's withering assessment of the extent of corruption in the PLA, but he is well-positioned to make it. His professional experience includes a decade in the government of the central Chinese province of Henan and a decade in the paramilitary, taking him beyond narrow lines of command and patronage.

His logistics department is integrated with all other arms of the Chinese military and his status as the descendant of a high-ranking leader, or princeling, enables privileged informal networks across military ranks and the civilian side of the party-state. Some Chinese and diplomatic PLA watchers believe Liu, the highest born of all the princelings now climbing into power, is on his way to the very top of China's military as a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) after the current leadership retires following this year's 18th Party Congress, the first large-scale transfer of power in a decade. It helps that he is a close friend of the princeling president-in-waiting, Xi Jinping.

...The practice of buying promotions inside the military is now so widespread, Liu noted, that even outgoing President Hu Jintao, who also leads the military from his position atop the CMC, had vented his frustration. "When Chairman Hu severely criticised ‘buying and selling official posts,' can we sit idle?"

...Outsiders can glimpse the enormous flow of military bribes and favours in luxury cars with military license plates on Changan Avenue, Beijing's main east-west thoroughfare, and parked around upmarket night clubs near the Workers' Stadium. Business people gravitate toward PLA officers because of the access and protection they bring. PLA veterans told me they are organising "rights protection" movements to protest their inadequate pensions, which they contrast with the luxury lifestyles they observe among serving officers. Retired officers have told me that promotions have become so valuable that it has become routine to pay the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to even be considered for many senior positions.

..."Certain individuals exchange public money, public goods, public office and public affairs for personal gain, flouting the law and party codes of conduct, even resorting to verbal abuse and threats, clandestine plots and set ups," he said. "They physically attack loyal and upstanding officials, kidnap and blackmail party leaders, and drag in their superiors to act as human shields. They deploy all of the tricks of the mafia trade within the army itself." The way Liu describes it, the web of military cliques, factions, and internal knots of organized crime sounds more like the workings of warlord armies before the communist revolution than the rapidly modernizing force that is currently rattling China's neighbors.

...Liu's legendary pedigree gives him license to do and say things that others cannot. He is the sole surviving son of former President Liu Shaoqi, who had been Mao's anointed successor for 20 years until Mao turned on him at the start of the Cultural Revolution. Arrested and publically beaten, the elder Liu died in 1969 in a cold concrete prison cell -- naked, emaciated, and caked in vomit and diarrhea. One of his brothers died when his head was forced onto a railway track; the other lost his sanity in jail and died shortly after his release. In 1979, Liu's mother was released after a decade in jail; his father was posthumously rehabilitated the next year in the lead up to a great show trial for the family's old assailants, including Mao's wife Jiang Qing. Liu Yuan and his friend Xi Jinping, who also suffered during the Cultural Revolution, resolved to be grassroots officials in the countryside and began ascending through government ranks.

When he talks of a "life-and-death" struggle to save the PLA and the Communist Party system his father helped create, few would doubt that Liu means it. What is less clear, however, is whether the PLA can simply remove its own rotten parts as if they were an infected appendix, and whether the divided and compromised civilian and military leadership, reeling over Bo Xilai's downfall, can provide so much as a scalpel to enable Liu do the surgical work. _FP
Since the fall from grace of Chongqing boss Bo Xilai, China has been reeling with talk of possible political coups, power plays, corruption trials in high places, and much more. With discussions about top level Chinese military corruption being made public, it is not clear that all the shoes have yet dropped.
What the Chinese have now learned (if they didn't know already) is that Mr. Bo and his wife were very much in business for themselves, and that their campaign against organized crime was in the nature of one mafia don's vendetta against his rivals. The concern for Chongqing's poor was the usual bunk—champagne socialism by its most cynical practitioners.

But even then the scandal wouldn't resonate among Chinese if it were an isolated case. In reality it's the norm.

Mr. Bo ran Chongqing like a fiefdom for his personal gain. So do most other city bosses in China. Mr. Bo is a "princeling" son of Maoist royalty. So is incoming supremo Xi Jingping. Mr. Bo's son drives a Ferrari. So do many other children of top party officials, who presumably cannot afford $200,000 cars on their modest government allowances.

"My father is Li Gang!" has gained the status of a proverb in today's China. It refers to what one young, fast-driving princeling supposedly yelled at police after he was detained for running over and killing a farm girl while driving drunk. The elder Mr. Li is deputy police chief in Baoding.

All this suggests that the Chinese aren't politically quiescent. They're furious. And their leaders—otherwise busy jockeying and horse-trading for position in the next government—need to figure out how they can allay that fury without also whetting it. _WSJ
But what can ordinary Chinese people do about corruption at top levels? Even if the long term consequences of top-level corruption should be a lessening of opportunity and quality of life for average Chinese citizens, the people have very little recourse.

As long as the widespread belief in Beijing's economic prowess persists, ordinary people will remain subservient, in hopes that conditions will eventually improve. Should the bubble ever be seen to be on the verge of bursting, however, all bets are off.


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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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