Purge of Chinese Military Officers Could Hasten Probe of Former Party Leader Jiang Zemin
Purge of Chinese Military Officers Could Hasten Probe of Former Party Leader Jiang Zemin

Two close associates of retired, influential military generals were recently arrested, according to overseas Chinese news outlets. Judging by previous patterns in recent political purges in China, this move may herald the opening of investigations into their former bosses, and ultimately lead to a probe of their patron, the Communist Party’s former leader, Jiang Zemin.

On May 20, major general Liao Xijun was arrested, sources told the Chinese-language publication World Journal and the South China Morning Post, an English language Hong Kong daily. The move was sanctioned by the prosecuting department of the Central Military Commission—the communist regime’s highest military governing body—and commander-in-chief and Party leader Xi Jinping, the reports said. Investigators raided Liao’s properties and seized an estimated 37 million yuan (about $5.6 million) worth of valuables.

A week later, World Journal reported that major general Zhu Xinjian, currently a member of the Central Military Commission’s science and technology commission, was placed under “shuanggui,” a strict internal Party disciplinary procedure designed to extract confessions from cadres.

The arrest of Liao Xijun and Zhu Xinjian is significant because they are closely connected with two top military officials. Liao Xijun is the younger brother of former General Logistics Department head Liao Xilong, while Zhu was the “mishu,” or secretary, of former General Armaments Department chief Li Jinai.

In turn, the two senior military cadres are long-time political clients of Jiang Zemin, the former chief of the Communist Party.

Building Power

In the Chinese regime, there’s a disconnect between official position and power—the latter is highly personal, and is not guaranteed by the institution or constitution.

So being a civilian with no military connections, Jiang had to spend more than a decade after formally becoming the head of the military commission to foster supporters and retool military departments in a bid to consolidate his hold over the military, and see that it obeys his will.

Liao Xilong. (CCTV)
Liao Xilong, former director of the General Logistics Department. (CCTV)

At an important political conclave in 2002, Jiang promoted loyalist Liao Xilong to director of the General Logistics Department, one of the chief branches of the Chinese military. Li Jinai, another loyalist, was made director of the General Armaments Department, a new military arm created by Jiang four years previously to de-emphasize the role of three other general headquarters branches and strengthen his grip on the People’s Liberation Army.

Li Jinai. (CCTV)
Li Jinai, former director of the General Armaments Department. (CCTV)

Liao and Li appear to have been advanced to their respective important military posts because they had played crucial roles promoting and sustaining Jiang’s persecution campaign against Falun Gong, perhaps the most severe campaign of human rights abuse in China.

Political Framing

In 1999, Jiang Zemin was bent on “eradicating” the practice of Falun Gong, a popular traditional meditation practice that espouses the moral teachings of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. In a furious letter to fellow leaders in April, he described Falun Gong as “the most serious political incident” since the Tiananmen protests a decade earlier.

By all accounts, the constituency of people he had targeted was vast and possessed significant social capital.

A Party survey found 70 million people of all ages and professions practicing Falun Gong, according to Hao Fengjun, a former public security officer and defector, speaking to journalist Ethan Gutmann. Wang Youqun, the secretary of former Party internal disciplinarian and Politburo Standing Committee member Wei Jianxing, often practiced Falun Gong’s five sets of exercises in the work compound, and wore a lapel pin with the Falun emblem to Communist Party meetings.

Jiang’s call to suppress Falun Gong was unpopular at the top level of Party leadership. “When it came to suppressing Falun Gong, six of the seven Standing Committee members opposed it,” Xin Ziling, a former Chinese defense official with ties to high-level, moderate Party cadres, told New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD) in an interview in April 2015. NTD and this newspaper are subsidiaries of the New York-based Epoch Media Group.

Jiang sought help from then commander of the Chengdu Military Region Liao Xilong, an officer known for his ambition. Sensing the opportunity for promotion, Liao oversaw the fabrication of documents that implicated Falun Gong practitioners in “involvement in politics” and plotting to “overthrow the Party.” Jiang used these documents to help force through his campaign, unleashing a Cultural Revolution-style suppression of Falun Gong on July 20, 1999, according to a source with reason to know, who gained the news from a source in the Chengdu Military Region in 2007.

Dark Operations

The persecution of Falun Gong is nearing its 17th year. According to Minghui.org, a clearinghouse for firsthand information about the persecution, over 3,900 practitioners were killed by torture and abuse. Hundreds of thousands of others have been placed under some form of detention.

Jiang was able to escalate his personal campaign because he promised wealth and high rank to Party officials who took on an active role in arresting and forcing Falun Gong practitioners to renounce their faith. “You must show your toughness in handling Falun Gong … it will be your political capital,” Jiang told the ambitious Politburo member Bo Xilai, according to Jiang Weiping, a veteran Chinese journalist.  

Party cadres in the military played a particularly heinous part in the persecution, and were duly rewarded.  

From the General Armaments Department, Li Jinai was later moved to the most prestigious General Political Department. He was also appointed head of the military’s “610 Office,” an extralegal, Gestapo-like organization that supervises the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.

During Liao Xilong’s stint as head General Logistics Department, the military hospitals that his department oversees appear to have been involved in a dark, grisly operation.

Speaking to an undercover investigator from the NGO World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in October 2014, former Chinese defense minister and General Staff Department chair Liang Guanglie suggested that the General Logistics Department was involved in transporting organs procured from live harvesting.

Last year, Bai Shuzhong, the former health minister of the General Logistics Department, told undercover human rights investigators that “Chairman Jiang … gave an instruction … to sell kidneys, do operations,” and added that his department did “a lot of anti-Falun Gong work” after “Chairman Jiang issued the order.”

“We directly control the military medical universities, they are directly affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army’s General Logistics Department, and they received repeated orders, because Jiang paid a lot attention to this matter back then, put a lot of emphasis on this matter,” Bai said.

Whistleblowers exposed live organ harvesting in 2006, and researchers have since concluded that hundreds of thousands of victims, the bulk of whom were Falun Gong practitioners, have been killed for their organs since 2000.

Official Purge

As unexpected political changes took place in China, however, many persecutors suddenly found themselves behind bars.

Wang Lijun, the former head of the police in Chongqing and Bo Xilai’s right hand man, attempted to defect to the United States consulate in Chengdu, and revealed to the Americans a plot by Bo and then security czar Zhou Yongkang to displace incoming Party leader Xi Jinping. Wang was arrested after his defection was refused, and Bo was purged soon afterward.

Xi started an anti-corruption campaign shortly after succeeding Hu Jintao as Party leader, and one by one, many of Jiang’s allies and their cronies were investigated and placed in detention. Among the most prominent scalps include Li Dongsheng, the former head of the 610 Office; military generals Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong; and Zhou Yongkang, a powerful Party cadre many considered untouchable.

In the case of Zhou Yongkang, his former aides were arrested before formal investigations of his person was announced, and Hong Kong political publications persistently carried rumors that the Party’s internal disciplinary agency was gathering evidence against him.

What is now happening to Liao Xilong and Li Jinai mirrors the purge of Zhou. Li’s former aide Zhu Xinjian has been purged, and the Liao’s younger brother Liao Xijun is reported in custody, as well as his adopted daughter and mistress, according to overseas Chinese news outlet Duowei News.

In March, overseas Chinese news publications reported that Liao had handed over 40 million yuan (about $6 million) in “questionable funding” that he had accumulated in a 10-year period to the military’s internal disciplinary unit.

Power Shift

Recently, Xi Jinping appears to be making noticeable inroads into establishing a case against Jiang Zemin, and weakening his influence.

The arrest of Liao Xilong and Li Jinai’s associates come on the back of recent investigations of Shanghai, Jiang’s longtime home base. Internal Party disciplinary inspectors recently concluded a two-month sweep of 28 government agencies in Shanghai, including many connected with members of the Jiang family. And in 2015, investigators probed major state-owned companies controlled by Jiang Mianheng and Jiang Miankang, the elder and younger sons of Jiang Zemin. The probing of family members of a former Party leader is extremely rare and is another indication that Xi may ultimately set crosshairs on Jiang himself.

A major overhaul of the military has also allowed Xi to remove Jiang’s lingering influence and replace Jiang’s supporters with his own.

In January, Xi dissolved the General Logistics Department and the General Armaments Department, creating in their place the Logistics Support Department and the Equipment Development Department. Xi then installed Zhao Keshi and Zhang Youxia, two generals loyal to him, as the respective directors of these two new units.

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