BEIJING -- In a first for modern China's military history, a serving general is being investigated on bribery charges, a development seen as a sign that even powerful military officers are as vulnerable as ever to President Xi Jinping's anti-graft drive.
The revelation came as a reporter brought up Gen. Wang Jianping's lengthy absence from the public eye during a Thursday news conference at the Ministry of National Defense. The deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of China's Central Military Commission is suspected of bribery, Senior Col. Yang Yujun, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said. Military prosecutors are investigating him as a step toward filing charges, Yang added without revealing the specifics of the allegations.
Wang is among the most senior members of China's military. He distinguished himself with a long career in the People's Armed Police Force, responsible for maintaining domestic order and protecting high-profile figures. Wang served as commander of that force before arriving in his current position.
The general is thought to have been close to Zhou Yongkang, the former security chief and member of the Communist Party's ruling Politburo Standing Committee who was sentenced to life in prison on corruption charges in June 2015. Wang was arrested by military prosecutors while on official business in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, according to a report in August by Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.
Show of authority
Xi has steadily intensified efforts to combat corruption in the government and the party since taking charge of both in November 2012. Senior military figures have come under investigation before. Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, both ex-vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission, were charged with corruption over the 2014-2015 period. Guo received a life sentence in July this year, while Xu died before standing trial. Tian Xiusi, a former political commissar in China's air force, was placed under investigation in July.
But these three men had all retired as generals by the time they came under investigation. Wang is thus the highest active-duty officer -- and the only serving general -- to be caught in the anti-graft net yet.
The military "has been conducting an in-depth anti-corruption campaign according to the arrangement of the [Communist Party] Central Committee," Yang said at Thursday's briefing -- a nod to Xi, who presides over the Central Military Commission as well as the state and the party.
The People's Liberation Army is in the midst of a structural overhaul involving sizable staff cuts, at the president's instruction. Xi seems to have built up a substantial base of support among the armed forces -- a useful asset as Communist Party factions jockey for control ahead of a leadership shuffle at the twice-a-decade National Congress in the fall of 2017.