U.S. President Joe Biden recently revealed that Chinese leader Xi Jinping was ignorant of the spy balloon that floated across North America, which one China expert sees as one of several recent examples of disunity between Xi and elements of his regime’s military.
Biden said on June 20 that Xi had no prior knowledge of the spy balloon that was shot down by the U.S. military in February this year.
“The reason why Xi Jinping got very upset in terms of when I shot that balloon down with two box cars full of spy equipment is he didn’t know it was there,” Biden told a crowd at a fundraiser in California on June 20. “That’s a great embarrassment for dictators when they didn’t know what happened.”
U.S. officials said Chinese military may be at the heart of the balloon spy operation and that the balloon manufacturers have direct ties to the Chinese military. The United States says the Chinese spy balloons, which can collect intelligence signals, are part of the CCP’s global military surveillance program.
PLA Instability Troubles Xi
Li Yanming, a U.S.-based expert on China issues, told The Epoch Times on June 24 that recent abnormalities in the Chinese Communist Party’s military have been frequent.
Li said that there are still anti-Xi forces within the CCP’s military—the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)—and the instability of the military deeply worries Xi.
As well as Xi’s ignorance of the balloon incident, cases of strict regulation of military leaders’ social activities and the release of inside information about a death sentence given to retired PLA air force general Liu Yazhou reveal that the CCP’s military is going through an intense purge.
According to Li’s analysis, former CCP dictator Jiang Zemin’s faction has controlled the military for a long time. After the fall of Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, the inner workings of the Jiang faction’s attempted coup against Xi were exposed—and the military was deeply involved.
Since the CCP’s 18th Party Congress in 2012, Xi has investigated Jiang’s inner circle in the PLA—two vice chairmen of the military commission, Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, and two members of the military commission, Fang Fenghui and Zhang Yang, who collectively have been referred to as the four ‘Army Tigers’.
But, Li said, there are still many remnants of the Jiang faction in the military, and many serving senior military officers started their careers when Jiang was in power.
In addition, the CCP’s red families and princelings are in control of the military. As the CCP’s internal purges continue to escalate, the political and economic interests are reshuffled, and the top echelon of the party is split and divided. Many princelings and military forces they control are now standing in opposition to Xi.
Li pointed out that the current situation in the Taiwan Strait is escalating, Sino-U.S. relations are deteriorating, and the risk of military confrontation is increasing.
However, the CCP’s military has always had two opposing voices on sensitive topics, such as attacking Taiwan by force and military confrontation between the United States and China.
“As a regime that believes in ‘power comes from the barrel of a gun,’ the instability of the military has undoubtedly become a worry for Xi Jinping, especially in the context of the regime’s current internal and external difficulties,” Li said.
He believes that the split and division within the PLA will be an important factor that will affect and even determine the future direction of the Taiwan Strait situation, Sino-U.S. relations, and the CCP’s high-level politics.
Also in June, the PLA issued new social networking regulations specifically for military officers, a move that China experts, such as Li, have described as unprecedented.
The PLA Daily published an article on June 19 stating that the Central Military Commission recently approved the issuance of the “Code of Conduct for Social Communications of Military Leaders.”
The code specifies how the leading PLA cadres should deal with eight different social groups, including those in local party and government agencies, business units and enterprises, social groups and relatives and friends, as well as these cadres’ connections on social networking platforms.
The rules also require military leaders to “constantly purify their social circle, life circle, and friend circle,” but the PLA Daily did not disclose any specific details regarding what to do or not to do with these groups.
Ni Lexiong, a Chinese military expert and a professor of political science at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, told Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post that the CCP’s issuance of social guidelines for military cadres was unprecedented, even during Mao Zedong’s rule.
The new rules will also apply to retired generals, who have considerable influence over younger cadres, according to a military source who spoke to the South China Morning Post.
Denouncing the 4 ‘Army Tigers’
The PLA Daily published several commentaries from June 2 to June 8 this year, repeatedly naming former military officials Guo Boxiong, Xu Caihou, Fang Fenghui, and Zhang Yang, saying that their “poisonous influence” should be fully and thoroughly eliminated.
Guo was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2016, and Xu died of illness in 2015 while under investigation. Fang was the chief of staff of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in February 2019. Zhang killed himself in November 2017 when he was under disciplinary investigation for corruption.
In addition to reaffirming the elimination of the “poisonous influence” of the four “army tigers,” the PLA Daily also stated in an article on June 5 that it is necessary to uphold the “absolute leadership” of the CCP over the military.
Inside Story of Liu Yazhou’s Case
In March this year, Hong Kong’s Ming Pao quoted sources as saying that Liu Yazhou, a former political commissar of the Chinese National Defense University and an air force general, had been sentenced to death by the authorities and that the authorities had kept his case secret because of his influence in the military.
In April, Hong Kong’s Sing Tao Daily stated that before the death sentence, the CCP’s Disciplinary Committee of the Central Military Commission had completed its investigation of Liu, and uncovered a staggering amount of money linked to corruption. He was sacked and transferred to the military judicial system.
The article also stated that due to Liu’s considerable influence, the authorities began to “eliminate Liu Yazhou’s residual poison” within the army.
The military issued a notice at the end of February, requesting that “Liu Yazhou’s harmful messages” be removed in March, and that each unit should conduct a self-censorship to thoroughly clean up all books, newspapers, periodicals, articles, inscriptions, speeches, etc. involving Liu, based on a comprehensive list issued by the military authority.
However, there has been no official confirmation of Liu’s death sentence from mainland Chinese authorities, except for an article on the Chinese Maoist website that criticizes him.