China’s army fielded missiles filled with water instead of fuel and arrays of silos with improper lids — examples of military corruption that led to a dramatic purge of top officials, Bloomberg reported, citing US intelligence.
The purge went so far as to axe even the Chinese Defense Minister, Li Shangfu, who disappeared for two months before being replaced in October.
Corruption was so severe in China’s Rocket Force and the wider PLA that it will likely force Xi to recalibrate whether Beijing can take on any major military action soon, Bloomberg reported, citing US intelligence sources.
The Rocket Force is China’s main military branch overseeing its nuclear weapons, and has been a key focus of Xi’s recent push to modernize Beijing’s forces rapidly.
It’s been especially central to China’s posturing on Taiwan, with Beijing rolling out long-range missiles on its coast to threaten the self-governed island.
In 2021, researchers said satellite images showed China was constructing hundreds of nuclear-capable missile silos in the Xinjiang desert, allowing its arsenal to potentially rival those of Russia or the US.
However, US intelligence said one example of corruption was that entire fields of silos in Western China were fitted with lids that prevented missiles from launching effectively, Bloomberg reported.
The outlet did not state what sort of missiles had been filled with water.
The American assessment said these problems have likely undermined Xi’s modernization policies and internal confidence in the Rocket Force’s capabilities, per the outlet.
Xi’s purge was long speculated to be tied to his long-running anti-corruption campaign. For months, China has dodged questions on why so many high-ranking army officials were fired.
Of the recently sacked Chinese commanders, at least three held top positions in the Rocket Force, and four were responsible for equipment, Reuters reported.
The PLA has since emphasized staying vigilant against graft, citing a “battle against corruption” repeatedly in its New Year’s Day statement.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent outside regular business hours.