US Intelligence Shows Flawed China Missiles Led Xi to Purge Army
Author: Peter Martin and Jennifer Jacobs
January 6, 2024 at 17:19
China missiles filled with water, not fuel: US intelligence
US intelligence indicates that President Xi Jinping’s sweeping military purge came after it emerged that widespread corruption undermined his efforts to modernize the armed forces and raised questions about China’s ability to fight a war, according to people familiar with the assessments.
The corruption inside China’s Rocket Force and throughout the nation’s defense industrial base is so extensive that US officials now believe Xi is less likely to contemplate major military action in the coming years than would otherwise have been the case, according to the people, who asked not to be named discussing intelligence.
The US assessments cited several examples of the impact of graft, including missiles filled with water instead of fuel and vast fields of missile silos in western China with lids that don’t function in a way that would allow the missiles to launch effectively, one of the people said.
The US assesses that corruption within the People’s Liberation Army has led to an erosion of confidence in its overall capabilities, particularly when it comes to the Rocket Force, and also set back some of Xi’s top modernization priorities, the people said. The graft probe has ensnared more than a dozen senior defense officials over the past six months, in what may be China’s largest crackdown on the country’s military in modern history.
At the same time, the US assesses that Xi hasn’t been weakened by the widening purge, according to the people. Rather, they said, his move to oust senior figures — including some promoted under his watch — shows his hold over the Communist Party remains firm and that he’s serious about improving discipline, eliminating corruption and ultimately preparing China’s military for combat over the long term.
Spokespeople for the White House National Security Council didn’t immediately comment. When asked about the US intelligence, Lieutenant Colonel Martin Meiners, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Department of Defense’s annual China report discusses Xi’s efforts to strengthen and accelerate anti-corruption investigations in the PLA, without providing more details.
China’s Defense Ministry couldn’t be reached for a comment on a weekend in Beijing.
The US assessments couldn’t be independently verified. In the past, US policy makers have been frustrated by the inability of intelligence agencies to provide insights into Xi’s inner circle after being surprised by decisions out of Beijing, including rapid moves to consolidate control of Hong Kong and militarize the South China Sea.
Xi has devoted billions of dollars to his aim of transforming the military into a modern force by 2027. Central to that was his elevation of the Rocket Force, which would play a pivotal role in any invasion of self-ruled Taiwan. In a potential warning for Beijing, Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine have been publicly hobbled by corruption, a problem that PLA researchers as far back as 2014 called “the number one killer that impairs the military’s ability to fight.”
Evidence of Xi’s corruption purge has bubbled to the surface in recent months.
In the latest round on Dec. 29, China’s top legislative body unseated nine defense figures, including five linked to the missile force and at least two from the Equipment Development Department, which is charged with arming the military.
Days earlier, China’s main political advisory body publicly removed three executives from state-owned missile manufacturers. That spate of purges came after the October ousting of China’s former defense minister, Li Shangfu, who was only in the position for seven months.
Those are just the removals Beijing has made public. Unlike other parts of the Chinese system, the military doesn’t announce its corruption investigations. Another Rocket Force major-general was quietly removed from Beijing’s municipal legislature in November, Chinese news outlet Caixin reported.
Public signs of Xi’s push to eliminate graft in the armed forces first emerged in July, when China’s top military body announced a new mechanism to detect and prevent corruption risks. Days later, the Equipment Development Department launched a retrospective graft probe that overlapped with Li’s tenure as its chief.
In a rare move, the department listed eight issues it was investigating, including “leaking information” and helping certain companies secure bids. Soon after came reports three top Rocket Force chiefs had been probed and removed.
The Chinese military’s official newspaper pledged in a Jan. 1 editorial to wage a “war on graft” this year, signaling more purges could be on the cards.