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Xi’s purges cutting PLA political clout down to size

After the sacking last year of the defense minister, at least nine generals and several senior executives of the military industry, the People’s Liberation Army – once the kingmaker of Chinese politics – is being purged again.

President Xi Jinping has vowed to “enrich the toolbox for punishing new types of corruption and hidden corruption” and to strengthen the supervision of senior cadre.

In a speech reported by China’s state television on June 19, Xi said: “Cadre at all levels, especially senior cadre, must show unity and have the courage to put aside their prestige and expose their shortcomings. They must deeply self-reflect.” They must “make earnest rectifications, and resolve problems at the root of their thinking.”

In 2015, shortly after he took power, Xi launched a major reform that restructured the PLA to strengthen its combat capability. The command system was flattened and reorganized, giving more control to the party.

The number of military regions (dividing PLA command over China) was reduced from seven to five “theater commands” with joint rule over the ground, naval, air and rocket forces. This change aimed to shift the concept of operations from primarily ground-oriented defense to mobile, coordinated movements, thereby enhancing offensive air and naval capabilities.

Units were dismantled and reassembled, with soldiers and noncommissioned and commissioned officers scattered around to break loyalty links in the chain of command and strengthen the PLA’s reliance on its top leadership.

However, it appears that this restructuring did not work ideally. Rumor has it that an investigation launched last year after an observation balloon fracas found that much of the strategic rocket equipment did not function well