A high-ranking officer in the Chinese navy committed suicide last week, the most recent of three high-ranking military officers to kill themselves since September. Observers suspect the deaths are linked to anti-corruption probes into military leaders who have close ties to former head of the Chinese Communist Party Jiang Zemin.
Ma Faxiang was the deputy commissar of the People’s Liberation Army Navy—approximately the sixth highest figure in the navy’s organization chart.
Rumors of his suicide began circulating on the Chinese Internet on Nov. 17. Then, a post was made to a news group on the App WeChat providing the detail that Ma jumped from the 15th floor of a building in Beijing’s Navy Yard.
That same day, the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post quoted an anonymous former naval officer who confirmed the suicide and said the date was Nov. 13.
The WeChat post said Ma’s suicide was likely due to depression. The anonymous officer said Ma’s death was a well-known scandal, but no one was allowed to discuss the reason for his death.
Neither mainland media nor Chinese officials have responded to the reports of Ma’s suicide.
Ma’s last public appearance was in late October. The Liberation Army Daily reported that on Oct. 22 in the port city of Zhoushan in northeastern Zhejiang Province Ma received the sailors who returned from the rescue mission for the missing Malaysian airline MH370.
Around the time that CCP leader Xi Jinping visited Australia for the G-20 Summit, eight high-ranking officers were sacked due to the ongoing anti-corruption campaign, according to an inside source quoted by the U.S. based Chinese-language news website Boxun. One of those eight was Ma.
According to reports in Boxun and in two Hong Kong newspapers known to be close to the Chinese regime, Ma was summoned by the Central Military Commission (CMC) for investigation right before his death.
According to Boxun’s source, the sacking of these military officers is tied to the corruption cases of former CMC vice chairmen Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong. Xu was expelled from the CCP this June and is currently under investigation.
Political commentator Tang Jingyuan told the U.S.-based, Chinese-language radio station Sound of Hope that Ma likely committed suicide to cover up the corruption of even higher ranking officers in the military.
“It’s highly possible that Ma’s incident is related to Guo Boxiong. If he’s involved in Xu’s case, he shouldn’t have committed suicide, because Xu is already a ‘dead tiger.’ Facing investigation, [Ma’s] suicide is more likely to protect some big tiger that hasn’t been trapped.” “Tiger” is the jargon used to refer to a high-ranking official targeted by a corruption probe, taken from a speech by Xi Jinping in January 2013.
Both Guo and Xu are close allies of former CCP leader Jiang Zemin, who helped arrange for their appointments to the CMC. The anti-corruption campaign has attacked Jiang’s allies in order to eliminate the power of Jiang’s faction, according to Tang.
“We can see that the majority of the sacked officials or the ones that are believed to be investigated are the backbone members of Jiang’s faction’s… Xi must thoroughly stabilize [his power in] the military, thus such [a crackdown] is a sure thing,” Tang said.
The anti-corruption investigation has reached deeply into all regions and departments of the military. Since the investigations into the military began, there have been at least two other high-profile military suicides, in addition to Ma’s, according to Boxun.
Rear Adm. Jiang Zhonghua jumped from a hotel building in Zhoushan of Zhejiang Province on Sept. 2. Maj. Gen. Song Yuwen of the Jilin Military Region hanged himself to death some time after he was investigated and before Nov. 15.