China Levels Graft Charges Against Former Defense Ministers

China’s leadership accused two former defense ministers on Thursday of taking “huge” bribes and of other acts of corruption that compromised military promotions and the nation’s weapons production complex.

Two announcements from the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo, a council of 24 top officials, laid out multiple accusations of crime and insubordination against Gen. Li Shangfu, the defense minister for much of last year, and Gen. Wei Fenghe, the minister from 2018 to 2023. The statements suggested that more heads could roll in expanding investigations.

Speculation has built since last year that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, had begun inquiries into military corruption and misconduct, after senior officers from the People’s Liberation Army’s Rocket Force were abruptly replaced or had disappeared. General Li’s removal as defense minister in October, after he had vanished from public view for months, added weight to the rumors. But only now has China’s leadership revealed the range of allegations involved in the investigations.

The announcement about General Li said he was found to have taken bribes in return for abusing his powers, including through corrupt personnel decisions, and that he had bribed others and tried to obstruct the investigation into him. The announcement about General Wei made similar accusations, and said that he had been plied with valuables and money.

Both men were stripped of their military ranks and expelled from the Communist Party, and their cases were sent to military prosecutors, meaning, almost inevitably, that both will be put on trial, found guilty and given heavy sentences, even death sentences, if their crimes are judged to be especially severe. The statements also suggested that their misdeeds amounted to a betrayal of Mr. Xi, who is chairman of the Central Military Commission as well as party leader.

Both generals had been members of the commission. General Li “betrayed the party’s founding aspirations and party principles, and his actions betrayed the trust of the party’s Central Committee and the Central Military Commission,” the party said. General Wei was further accused of a “collapse in faith” in the party.

The announcements may prompt wider investigations that could, at least temporarily, slow the clip of China’s rapid military modernization drive. The announcements said investigators were following more leads, and General Li’s corruption had “severely polluted” the military equipment sector and firms. Before his appointment as defense minister, he had risen as a specialist in military equipment, a sector that has enjoyed decades of expanding spending.

“The announcements seem to point to something very serious,” Andrew N.D. Yang, an expert on the Chinese military who formerly served in Taiwan’s ministry of defense, said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Yang said the generals’ apparent resistance to investigators and assertions that they lost faith in the party would be especially disturbing to Mr. Xi, because the details could point to wider unhappiness or insubordination in the People’s Liberation Army’s senior ranks.

“I think we can expect comprehensive investigations into the military, not only in the Rocket Force, but also in other sectors,” Mr. Yang said, referring to China’s military forces.

Mr. Xi underscored his determination to root out misconduct and perceived disloyalty in the Chinese military earlier this month, when he met with commanders in Yan’an, an officially hallowed area of northwest China where Mao Zedong gathered forces during the revolution and war against Japan.

Mr. Xi had held a similar “political work” conference for the military in 2014, when he was rooting out corruption that had taken hold over previous decades, including the buying and selling of promotions.

But apparently, the problems persist, and on his latest trip Mr. Xi summoned the spirit of Mao’s army as inspiration and warning.

“Senior officers across the whole military must keep in mind the founding aspirations and lead the way in advancing the Yan’an spirit,” Mr. Xi said, according to the official summary of the three-day meeting. “Make sure that the people’s military always retains its true nature and mission, and always dares to fight and win.”

The armed forces are crucial to Mr. Xi’s political power and his vision of China as a resurgent global power.

At home, the People’s Liberation Army is a pillar of Communist Party dominance, sworn to absolute loyalty to Mr. Xi. Externally, the military is key to Mr. Xi’s efforts to project influence and diminish American dominance across the Asia-Pacific. It is also crucial to China’s efforts to absorb Taiwan — the island democracy about 100 miles off the mainland coast that Beijing claims as its territory.

But the downfall of the two former defense ministers indicated that Mr. Xi’s ability to pick and promote the right commanders may be questioned inside the People’s Liberation Army, said Mr. Yang, the Taiwanese military expert.

An engineer, General Li, 66, rose through the ranks in rocketry, weapons development and China’s manned space program. He was the first deputy commander of the Strategic Support Force, which Mr. Xi created in late 2015 as part of a reorganization of the Chinese military. In April, Mr. Xi broke up the force into three separate units.

General Wei, 70, was the first commander of the Rocket Force, the custodian of most of China’s nuclear weapons as well as of thousands of conventional missiles. Mr. Xi founded the Rocket Force in late 2015, upgrading the former missile arm called the Second Artillery Corps.

“They were both promoted by him, so how can he say that he’s picking the right people in the right positions?” Mr. Yang said. Still, Mr. Yang said he expected no major disruption to China’s plans to build ever more military ships, aircraft and missiles.

“The objective for Xi Jinping is to come up with the most effective military,” Mr. Yang said. “That won’t change.”

Related Posts

Republicans Share Their Wishlist for Trump

We posed a question to R.N.C. attendees in Milwaukee: If Donald Trump wins, what is the first thing you want him to do as president?

In Milwaukee, Black Voters Struggle to Find a Home With Either Party

Black voters make up roughly 5 percent of the electorate in Wisconsin. But in this swing state where the election is likely to be won by a…

How Donald Trump Picked J.D. Vance

How did J.D. Vance, once a harsh critic of Donald J. Trump, win Trump’s approval and become his choice for vice president? Jonathan Swan, a reporter covering…

Project 2025, Explained

A set of conservative policy proposals called Project 2025 has put into words what a second term for Donald J. Trump could look like. Trump has distanced…

Sailor Who Tried to Access Biden’s Medical Records Was Disciplined by Navy

A Navy sailor was disciplined for trying unsuccessfully to gain unauthorized access to President Biden’s restricted medical records earlier this year, a military official said on Tuesday….

Democrats, Swallowing Fears About Biden’s Candidacy, Remain Behind Him

Congressional Democrats indicated on Tuesday that they were unwilling — at least for now — to mount an effort to push aside President Biden despite grave concerns…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *