The unceremonious dismissal March 15 of high-ranking communist official Bo Xilai - the powerful party chief of the world's largest metropolis, Chongqing - is causing major concern over the Communist Party's ability to control the ultimate guarantor of the regime, the 2.28 million-strong People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Mr. Bo, a flamboyant member of the 25-man collective party dictatorship group called the Politburo, had a penchant for fanning Maoist populism. He was purged after his police chief and vice mayor, Wang Lijun, walked into the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6 and stayed overnight there in what ultimately was a failed attempt to seek political asylum.
In cleaning up the political fallout Mr. Bo created in Chongqing, Beijing leaders discovered a far more frightening aspect of Mr. Bo's ambition: his assiduous efforts to infiltrate the army leadership to prepare for a possible military coup if his political ambition were not fulfilled, according to the reported confessions of the current mayor of Chongqing, Huang Qifan, who until a week ago had been Mr. Bo's henchman and spin doctor for public media on the Wang Lijun scandal.
According to an inside source from the nation's capital, Mr. Huang revealed a plot to internal party investigators who had been dispatched from Beijing.
"Bo Xilai told me repeatedly that he had actual control over at least two PLA army corps and that if 'that idiot Xi Jinping' really becomes the successor to Hu Jintao, [Bo] would immediately order the troops into Beijing and eliminate those SOBs!" Mr. Huang said.
The first scare of a possible military action taken by Mr. Bo occurred in November, when President Hu Jintao was out of the country in Hawaii for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.
In Mr. Hu's absence, Mr. Bo staged a large, boisterous military exercise in Chongqing. He invited China's defense minister, Gen. Liang Guanglie, and all other local party strongmen in southwestern China to attend, in violation of a series of Communist Party procedural taboos with regard to troop movements.
Mr. Bo belongs to the powerful faction of "princelings" whose fathers were founding members of the People's Republic of China. The princelings constitute about 40 percent of the current 25-man Politburo.
Although civilians exercise the dominant influence in the Politburo, princelings occupy a growing number of important positions in the highest echelons of the army. Those princelings' links to the army worry the party's high command most.
In addition, Zhou Yongkang - Mr. Bo's fellow princeling in the Politburo and China's internal security chief, who commands a vast, 1.2 million-member paramilitary force called the People's Armed Police - is widely known as Mr. Bo's closest political ally. He also was implicated in the Wang Lijun scandal, according to various news reports in China.
On Monday, the People's Liberation Army Daily, mouthpiece of the Central Military Commission, published an unusually timed editorial calling for the army's "absolute obedience to the command of the [party's] Central Committee, the Central Military Commission and Chairman Hu."
Such editorials in the past followed major holidays or anniversaries. Some are published in an apparent bid to squelch an internal crisis by signaling to the public that a major purge is in the offing. Monday's date, March 19, carries no political or celebratory significance in China.
"We must unequivocally oppose all kinds of erroneous ideas and always listen to the party and follow the party," an editorial urged the troops.
HACKERS STOLE F-35 SECRETS
Chinese computer hackers recently hit the British defense contractor BAE, a partner in the U.S. Air Force's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
"For 18 months, Chinese cyber attacks had taken place against BAE and had managed to get hold of plans of one of its latest fighters," a senior BAE executive told London's Sunday Times.
There were similar reports of Chinese cyberattacks against Northrop Grumman, another partner in the F-35 JSF project.
"Chinese hackers actually sat in on what were supposed to have been secure, online program-progress conferences," the Feb. 3 edition of Aviation Week quoted U.S. government officials as saying.
China has shown rapid development of advanced, next-generation aircraft and unmanned aircraft that appear uncannily similar to original U.S. designs. They include China's J-20 fifth-generation stealth fighter and what appear to be homemade adaptations of Global Hawk and other intelligence and sensor aircraft.
• Miles Yu's column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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