September 26, 2023 –
Over the last two months, a series of senior Chinese generals have disappeared from public view, including the defense minister and the leadership of the force responsible for China’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). These disappearances are surprising given the perception that Chinese President Xi Jinping dominates the People’s Liberation Army and his ruthless commitment to rooting out malfeasance earlier in his tenure. In fact, that such incidents have not only continued but also affected some of the most sensitive parts of the PLA showcases the limits of Xi’s power.
Xi and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) more broadly have long granted the PLA considerable autonomy to run its own affairs. Allowing the PLA a high degree of independence helps ensure its political compliance with Xi and the party, yet with no civilian checks and balances, it also creates the conditions for malfeasance and poor accountability to fester. Although the details of the recent purges are still murky, they reflect Xi’s lack of confidence in some of his most senior officers.
Read the article at Foreign Affairs here.
Joel Wuthnow is a senior research fellow in the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at the National Defense University and an adjunct professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. He is the lead editor of Crossing the Strait: China’s Military Prepares for War with Taiwan (NDU Press, 2022).
The views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.