China’s Military Reshuffle Threatens Xi’s Vision

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Xi Jinping’s iron grip on China has seen him liken himself to a physician purging the Communist Party of corruption and disloyalty. A decade-long endeavor to rein in the once-rampant military leadership has been his hallmark project. However, recent turbulence in the upper echelons of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) suggests that Xi’s cure has not taken hold as firmly as hoped.

In a surprising twist, Xi replaced two senior generals within the Rocket Force, a crucial military arm responsible for managing both conventional and nuclear missiles. The abrupt shake-up hints at potential suspicions of corruption or other misconduct, casting shadows on this sensitive branch of the PLA.

The puzzling developments have left experts speculating about the root causes. Andrew N D Yang, a former senior Taiwanese defense official and a Chinese military expert, remarked, “Obviously, something has gone wrong in the system, which is probably related to discipline and corruption. It’s like a virus in the system that has come back. It’s a deep-rooted problem, and it has survived in the system.”

For Xi, any scandal involving high-ranking military figures deals a blow to his aspirations. He has painstakingly molded the sprawling Communist Party and China’s military, boasting a staggering 98 million members, into staunch enforcers of his rule. The recent removal of the foreign minister, Qin Gang, just days prior to the top generals’ ousting, further underscores Xi’s dilemma. Qin, a trusted enforcer of Xi’s policies, represents another obstacle that Xi had to swiftly eliminate.

The indications of misconduct reaffirm Xi’s belief in maintaining rigorous oversight and pressure to prevent officials from straying. This approach involves continuous inspections by party investigators, loyalty-inducing campaigns targeting both the Communist Party and Xi, and the decisive use of dismissals and arrests.

Joseph Torigian, an assistant professor at American University specializing in elite politics in China, explained that in Xi’s perspective, “you never get to the point where the danger recedes. Even when you have an absolutely dominant leader, that doesn’t mean you don’t have churn in the system.”

As the intricate dance of power continues within China’s political and military circles, Xi confronts a pressing challenge: ensuring that his vision of an unwavering and disciplined establishment remains intact, even in the face of persistent internal turbulence.

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