Top Chinese general accused of ‘avoiding punishment’ took his own life

Zhang Yang, left, then head of the People’s Liberation Army political affairs department, and Fang Fenghui, then chief of the general staff of the PLA in March. Photo: AP

A top Chinese general has taken his own life amid a corruption investigation that saw him purged from the powerful China Central Military Commission.

Soon after Chinese state media reported that Zhang Yang had killed himself at his Beijing home, the official military news website accused him of being a “double faced man”.

“Zhang Yang chose to avoid punishment from the party and state by committing suicide. Such an act is abominable,” wrote the PLA Daily’s online news service.

Zhang, until recently a member of the CMC and the former head of the military’s political department, had taken his life at his home on the morning of November 23, the Xinhua news agency reported.

He was being investigated by anti-corruption authorities for his links to two previously purged vice chairmen of the CMC, Guo Boxiang, who has been jailed, and Xu Caihou, who has since died of cancer.

Professor of Asia-Pacific Security Studies at Macquarie University, Bates Gill, said the fact that Guo and Xu, the two most senior uniformed officers in China, were found corrupt showed how the PLA had become a fiefdom, and corruption had undermined its war fighting capacity.

He said the combination of the anti-corruption drive and a major reorganisation of the military was designed to install people Chinese who president Xi Jinping could trust and who were committed to military modernisation.

Zhang’s death will “continue to put the fear of Mao into people in the upper ranks of the PLA,” he said.

Adam Ni of the ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre said there hasn’t been a suicide of such a senior Chinese official in a very long time.

According to the Brookings Institution’s Cheng Li, Guo and Xu had controlled the PLA for a decade, by overseeing promotions and allegedly “selling” senior command posts.

Xi has purged 42 senior officers in a sweeping anti-corruption campaign that has also sought to  regain civilian leadership of the PLA, he wrote.

Xinhua said Zhang had “seriously violated the law” and was suspected of giving and taking bribes and holding assets without a clear source.

The recent 19th party congress saw Xi install a new military leadership loyal to him as chairman of the Central Military Commission.

“Xi believes controlling the military is his ultimate guarantee of power,” said Ni.

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