- - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Corruption in the PLA

A rare public protest against the Chinese military took place June 18 at the Chinese border city of Shenzhen, the logistics base for all People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops stationed in nearby Hong Kong.

Scores of angry, boisterous, and banner-holding protesters, most of them relatives of retired and active-duty, lower-ranking PLA officers, stormed the gate to the main base there to protest unfair and corrupt housing policies within the PLA.

The protesters clashed with armed guards and accused high-ranking officers at the Shenzhen barracks of taking away their allotted housing units and converting them into luxurious commercial rental units for personal gain.

The protests are another sign that official corruption in China is spiraling out of control. Last week, the Chinese central bank issued a report on its website that said some 16,000 to 18,000 government officials had embezzled $124 billion and fled the country in the last 15 years.

Insiders in Washington and Beijing believe that the numbers are understated and that a large portion of the illicit capital flight took place within the last two years.

The Chinese military is certainly no bystander in this spectacular heist, with all the privileged means at its disposal to easily and legally bypass customs controls and financial regulators.

A case in point is Vice Adm. Wang Shouye, former deputy commander of the PLA navy who was discovered in 2005 with at least five mistresses and $26 million worth of embezzled state funds, much of it found as cash stacked inside the German-manufactured freezer at his residence.

Red Princelings over China

One hallmark of Hu Jintao’s 10-year reign as China’s most senior leader is his role in the rise of sons and daughters of first generation communist leaders, known as “princelings.”

These princelings are normally the most hawkish on war and peace, with a particular penchant for bashing the United States as China’s primary enemy state.

Prominent among them is PLA Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan whose father Luo Qingchang was the Mao-era chief of the Party’s External Liaison Department, an overarching international intelligence and communist subterfuge organization. On June 13, coinciding with Western media reports of China’s upcoming naval exercise in the western Pacific, Gen. Luo attacked the United States and its ally Japan in an article in the state-run People’s Daily newspaper subsidiary Global Times for what he said were sinister attempts to contain China’s rise and to turn a robust “Chinese dragon” into a wimpy “Chinese worm.”

Similarly, in another recent report, Gen. Liu Yuan, son of the late Communist Party of China luminary Liu Shaoqi and currently the senior political commissar for the PLA’s General Logistics Department, penned some of the most militaristic calls to arms reminiscent of the fascist rhetoric of the 1930s.

“History is written by blood and slaughter,” Gen. Liu wrote in accusing some civilian party leaders for lacking sufficient militarism. “The Party has been repeatedly betrayed by general secretaries, both in and outside of the country, recently and in the past,” he stated bluntly, adding “No-surrender Communist Party members, let’s start again!”

China’s Strategic Ambiguity

Intense displays of naval power flared up again in recent weeks in the resource-rich South China Sea as Vietnam conducted naval live-fire drills after Chinese ships rammed a Vietnamese survey vessel and cut the cable being towed by another, triggering anti-China protests in Hanoi.

China, in return, held its own naval exercises in the disputed maritime area, and actively worked diplomatically to try and isolate Vietnam.

On Sunday, the Chinese naval surveillance ship, Haixun 31, began a five-day visit to Singapore, which, unlike its several neighbors, has no claim over the disputed Spratlys and Paracel island chains in the South China Sea.

The Singaporean government, however, seized the opportunity and demanded on Monday that China openly clarify its sweeping but ambiguous claims in the South China Sea. Among the questions: Does China claim only the islands or the vast body of water in the region? Does China claim the area as its territorial sovereign water or as its Exclusive Economic Zone where international navigation should not be impeded?

In the same statement, the Singapore government stressed the paramount importance of the freedom of navigation, a subtle and unambiguous rebuttal to Beijing’s naval ambition.

Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.