China’s Top Military Body Conducts Massive Internal Investigations Before 19th Congress

The Central Military Commission (CMC) has dispatched four special discipline inspection groups to probe key military units, academies, and the CMC itself, according to Hong Kong media reports. The probe commenced on Sept. 15 and will end on Oct. 15, just three days before the opening of the 19th Party Congress.

The reports add that the discipline inspection groups have been specifically tasked with “completely eliminating the malignant residual influence of Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou” in the senior military leadership ranks. Guo and Xu are former CMC vice chairs and elite members of former Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin’s faction. Xu was purged from the Party in 2014 while Guo was purged in 2015.

“Evil must be rooted out. Absolutely no problematic officials should be allowed to join the 19th Congress,” read a message by the inspection groups according to Hong Kong media.

Why it matters: Since taking office in 2012, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has been consolidating his control over the Communist Party by purging officials loyal to Jiang and his faction, who had long dominated Party organs like propaganda, domestic security, and the military. Wrestling the military away from the Jiang faction’s grasp is particularly crucial for Xi because Party leaders need full control over the military in order to dictate the Party’s agenda.

Unusual personnel changes: While Xi has on numerous occasions dispatched discipline inspection groups to root out Jiang faction elements in the military, the timing, scale, and intended targets of the latest inspection probe is very irregular, especially considering Xi’s very recent military personnel changes.

Between August and September, Xi replaced 6 members of the CMC leadership from their office (Fang Fenghui, Zhang Yang, Zhao Keshi, Zhang Youxia, Ma Xiaotian, and Wei Fenghe), including two who are being investigated for wrongdoing (Fang Fenghui and Zhang Yang). Additionally, Xi replaced or purged 12 out of 51 officers in charge of key military theater commands, units, academies, and other institutions—a drastic and very unusual move by Xi.

Our take: Xi Jinping wants internal Party stability before the 19th Party Congress, and nothing generates more fear and uncertainty among the cadre ranks than sweeping last-minute purges.

We believe that Xi is able to so drastically cleanse the top military ranks and not face stiff internal opposition because he has likely announced to senior officials the discovery of an attempted coup against his leadership by “anti-Party elements”—a very serious charge in the Communist Party that mandates strong countermeasures for political stability.

We anticipate the purge of more military personnel in the near future.

See our full report analyzing a possible failed coup in 2017.