Morale: China Goes To War With Its Generals

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August 25, 2014: Retired Chinese military officers have been ordered to return government real estate they have been using without permission. This involves the corrupt practice of retired officers receiving the use of additional residential property as an informal retirement benefit. This is another form of corruption in the military and was discovered when the government conducted a thorough audit of government owned residential property in areas where informants had indicated retired officers were up to no good. This is part of an effort, begun in 2012, to put a major dent into the corrupt practices found in the military.

This latest effort to curb corruption in the military went into high gear in 2012 as the government introduced new rules which compelled senior military officers to disclose their personal financial details. This was an embarrassing admission by the government that they did not trust their own officers. Corruption in the military has been a problem in China for thousands of years. The communists thought they had cured it but after they took control of China in the late 1940s the rot began to reappear. There have been several major efforts since then to keep the corruption from getting out of hand and doing serious damage to combat capabilities. This latest public anti-corruption effort is an indicator that the government believes the generals and admirals are a little too corrupt.

The 2012 disclosure rules were the result of a decision several years earlier to make a major effort to curb corruption in the military. By 2012 this led to the military establishing a research effort, at their National Defense University, to study past and potential anti-corruption efforts. As the military budget has doubled in the since 2000, corruption has kept pace; despite several major anti-corruption campaigns. The new research effort included a permanent center for the study of what anti-corruption methods worked, which ones did not, and try to figure out why. China is determined to keep after corruption in the military, not just make a few major moves then let the corrupt officers and troops get back to business.

The 2012 disclosure rules led to the discovery of several senior officers who were taking bribes from suppliers and officers seeking jobs in logistics (where there were more opportunities to steal). This happened despite earlier efforts to curb these ancient practices. The investigation and prosecution of several senior generals indicated that the most senior military officers are not immune to the law. In 2012 more anti-corruption inspections of military bases were ordered, to include all who worked there. These are audits seeking to detect corrupt practices and find out who was responsible. Since 2012 more audits have been ordered, often without any publicity.

A major reason for corruption in the military getting worse after 2005 because China was retiring a lot of military officers as part of a program to shrink the size of the military. It provided Internet training to these officers in an attempt to encourage them to become Internet based businessmen. Before that most retired officers expected a government job but there are not enough of those to go around these days. Officers facing retirement and a sharp drop in living standards had an incentive to do what they could to make more money. This led to a culture of corruption becoming more widespread and accepted by officers. It was like saying that if the state would not take care of them, than the officers would do whatever they could to take care of themselves.

For a long time most of these anti-corruption efforts involving the military were kept quiet. Then in 2013 a retired Chinese army officer (a general) caused an unpleasant situation for the military leadership by going public with details of corruption in the army. Many such details (like the unexplained wealth of many army officers) were not hard to spot, but the government controlled media stayed away from it and there were so many other forms of corruption that directly impact Chinese, that no one else bothered with the misbehaving officers either. But the general’s Internet posts provided details on how the thefts cripple the ability of the troops to fight, or even operate, effectively. Historically, this is old news, as is the usually very poor performance of the Chinese military in the opening stages of a war. China is a large country, so wars usually lasted long enough for the corruption to be quashed and more competent leadership to set things right. But this costs a lot in terms of lives and money and the new, improved army is not supposed to following the bad old ways. But as the general pointed out, in the army the past prospers, at least for corrupt officers.  The navy and air force have a way to fight corruption that the army lacks. The government can provide more money to have ships at sea and aircraft in the air more often. You can’t fake that and the best training for sailors and pilots (and their maintenance crews) is constant use of their expensive equipment. The army leaders can more easily had theft and they are doing so more frequently.

 

 


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