Two generals who at different times held top military jobs in the country’s south, including overseeing the sensitive South China Sea, were demoted by seven grades to become deputy regimental officers, the sources said.
At the same time, the man who was once the youngest lieutenant general in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and a former military spy chief, was taken away by investigators on Wednesday.
Sources close to the PLA told the South China Morning Post that the latest moves underscored Xi’s determination to eradicate the remaining influence among the troops of two corrupt former top military leaders.
“Xi wants to use the three senior generals’ downfall as a warning to all military officers that the anti-graft campaign has not stopped,” a retired senior colonel said. “It’s foreseeable that more senior officials will be investigated because it takes time to eradicate an evil legacy.”
At a high-level military meeting last weekend, Xi, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, told dozens of senior generals that the anticorruption campaign must be continued unswervingly and there “would not be any change in direction” in the drive to make the PLA a “politically loyal and clean” armed forces.
One glaring absence from a state television report of the meeting was General Wei Liang, the political commissar of the Southern Theatre Command.
Several independent sources close to the PLA told the Post that Wei, as well as General Xu Fenlin, were demoted to deputy regimental officer as a result of unspecified disciplinary action.
Xu, a former deputy chief of the CMC’s Joint Staff Department, was commander of the now defunct Guangzhou Military Area Command, which was absorbed into the Southern Theatre Command after Xi ordered an organisational overhaul in 2016.
Both Xu and Wei are seen having close ties – directly or indirectly – to disgraced former CMC vice-chairmen and generals Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou.
Both Guo and Xu Caihou were accused of accepting bribes from other officers in return for promotions. Guo is serving a life sentence for corruption and Xu Caihou died while under investigation in 2015.
Xu Fenlin has long been considered one of Guo’s strongest allies, and a source said Xu and Wei also forged close ties with late general Zhang Yang when the three served at the Guangzhou command in the early 2000s. Zhang, who also had close ties with Guo and Xu Caihou, killed himself when he came under investigation late last year.
Separately, Lieutenant General Yang Hui, 55, a deputy commander and chief of staff with the Eastern Theatre Command, was put under investigation for alleged corruption on Wednesday, three sources said.
One of the sources said Yang was taken away during a meeting.
Yang, once a bright rising star in the military who was promoted to lieutenant general in 2013 at the age of 50, was in charge of the PLA’s intelligence agency under the now defunct General Staff Department for four years from 2007. He was then promoted to chief of staff of the Nanjing Military Area Command before it was merged into the new Eastern Theatre Command.
“All three generals [represent] the harmful influence left by Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou,” one of the sources said.
At least 13,000 military officers had been punished for corruption over the past five years, with nearly 200 of them senior generals, The PLA Daily reported in October.
During the weekend military conference, Xi also called on the attendees to spare no effort to cultivate young military cadres and clean, loyal talent with a keen sense of responsibility.