HONG KONG — In the most far-reaching public move so far in President Xi Jinping’s drive against corruption in China, the Communist Party on Monday expelled a retired military commander, Gen. Xu Caihou, and handed him over for a crime investigation on charges of taking huge bribes in return for military promotions.
Until his retirement in late 2012, Gen. Xu held one of the highest ranks in the People’s Liberation Army, as a vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission. He was also a member of the elite Politburo. He has become the most prominent Chinese military leader to be purged in decades, and the most senior official named publicly in Mr. Xi’s campaign to clean up the elite and impose his authority on the party, the government and the People’s Liberation Army.
The Politburo, made up of 25 senior officials, decided to expel Gen. Xu from the party and hand his case to prosecutors for investigation after hearing the findings of a secretive inquiry started in March, according to an announcement from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s arm for investigating corruption and abuses of power.
“The investigation found Xu Caihou used his office to provide help for others in promotions, and accepted bribes directly or through his family,” said the commission, citing the meeting. “He exploited the influence of his office to bring gain to others, and his family accepted wealth and property from others, gravely violating party discipline and bringing suspicion of the crime of accepting bribes. The circumstances were grave, and the effects were malignant.”
The official announcement made clear the lesson for other officials who might fall afoul of investigators. “No matter how big or small someone’s power, how high or low his office, if he violates party discipline and state law, he will be sternly punished without any indulgence or soft-handedness,” said the Politburo meeting announcement.
Gen. Xu was the most prominent military leader to be purged in a generation, said Christopher K. Johnson, an expert on Chinese politics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. But Mr. Xi was likely to claim more, and possibly even more powerful, targets while he used the campaign against graft to consolidate power, Mr. Johnson said in a phone interview.
“I think Xi is building to a crescendo, and he’s aiming for others to be rolled out,” Mr. Johnson said. “This is the most high-profile attack on a military figure since Deng Xiaoping’s time. There’s a message here from Xi to all resisters. It also sends a huge message on defense structural reform.”
In 1992, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping forced two senior military figures — Yang Shangkun and his half-brother, Yang Baibing — from the center stage of power after their influence threatened to undermine Deng’s preferred leader, Jiang Zemin. Now, Mr. Xi has sent a similarly assertive signal, as he prepares to recast the organization of the military, Mr. Johnson said.
Nor was Gen. Xu the only former senior official targeted by the meeting Monday. Xinhua announced that the Politburo also expelled from the party Li Dongsheng, a former vice minister of public security, who party investigators found took huge bribes, as well as two former executives of a state oil conglomerate, Jiang Jiemin and Wang Yongchun, who were accused of similar misdeeds.
There is evidence indicating that Mr. Xi has pushed his own family members to exit investments in a bid to reduce his own political vulnerability as he takes on senior Communist Party members for graft. Starting from late 2012, about the time Mr. Xi assumed leadership of the Communist Party, his older sister and his brother-in-law began selling off hundreds of millions of dollars in investments.
Since assuming the party leadership in November 2012, Mr. Xi has pledged to punish graft among senior officials — “tigers,” as he has called them. But so far, no other figures as powerful as Gen. Xu have been publicly cited under Mr. Xi.
Zhou Yongkang, former head of domestic security, has also been under party investigation, according to sources close to leaders, but there have been no official accusations made public against him. Three of the officials punished by the party Monday — Mr. Li, Mr. Jiang and Mr. Wang — had career links with Mr. Zhou.
The case against Gen. Xu could serve to deter official graft while helping Mr. Xi tighten his hold on the party, M. Taylor Fravel, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies China’s military, said in a phone interview. “Given the way in which the party is constituted, any personnel decision has political implications,” he said. “So I think it could be true that Xi is committed to clamp down on corruption while at the same time also committed to rearranging the deck chairs in his favor. Both of those things can actually be true.”
As a senior officer in the People’s Liberation Army’s General Political Department, and its director from 2002 to 2004, Gen. Xu had a big say in promoting officers. Two people close to senior officials have said that, according to a briefing given to officials in recent weeks, Gen. Xu was accused of taking large sums of cash and gifts in return for securing promotions right up to senior levels of the military. Both of those people — a military researcher and a television producer — spoke on condition of anonymity before the announcement, citing the risk of official repercussions for discussing the confidential investigation.
Gen. Xu’s downfall has also been linked to a graft investigation into Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan, whom prosecutors have accused of rampant bribe-taking, embezzlement and abuse of power. An internal inquiry alleged that Gen. Gu used his powers over land development to hoard kickbacks, and bribed his way up the military ladder.
The military researcher said Gen. Xu had been suffering from bladder cancer, but Mr. Xi and other leaders had pressed ahead with the investigation. “Even though he’s been called a dying tiger, they still have to pursue and clear up this,” the researcher said.East Asia - Asia - China - Greater China - China government - Xi Jinping - Christopher Buckley - Jiang Zemin