China's Xi likely to promote army general who exposed graft -sources

China's President Xi Jinping stands next to a Chinese national flag during a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing on Nov 13, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
China's President Xi Jinping stands next to a Chinese national flag during a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing on Nov 13, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - President Xi Jinping is likely to promote a corruption whistleblower to China's top military decision-making body to underscore his determination to tackle graft inside the country's rapidly modernising armed forces, two sources said.

General Liu Yuan, 62, the eldest son of late president Liu Shaoqi, is set to be appointed to the Central Military Commission during a meeting of the Communist Party's elite 205-member Central Committee in October, a source close to the leadership and a second source with ties to the military said.

Security had been stepped up around Gen Liu after he had received death threats for exposing the worst military graft scandal in modern China, which involved the widespread selling of positions in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), three separate sources added.

Mr Xi has made tackling pervasive official corruption one of his top priorities since he took over the party in November 2012. His crackdown accelerated this week when the party said it was investigating former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang for breaching party discipline, a euphemism for corruption.

Mr Xi has also demanded the military clean up its act and become more combat ready as China asserts itself in the disputed waters of the East and South China Seas, though the country has not fought a war in decades and stresses it wants peaceful ties with its neighbours.

"Liu Yuan will at the very least become a member of the Central Military Commission. He could even become a vice-chairman," said the source close to the leadership, who requested anonymity to avoid repercussions for speaking about elite politics to a foreign reporter without permission.

Mr Xi, who has publicly acknowledged his friendship with Liu on a number of occasions, heads the Central Military Commission, which controls the 2.3 million-strong armed forces, the world's largest. The commission has two vice chairmen.

Gen Liu is currently political commissar of the PLA's Logistics Department.

A vocal critic of graft in the military, Liu's whistleblowing paved the way for corruption charges against retired military commission vice chairman and former politburo member Xu Caihou as well as Lieutenant-General Gu Junshan.

During a closed-door meeting of the country's top brass in 2012, before Xi took over the party, Gen Liu accused Lt Gen Gu and his protectors of corruption and vowed to fight graft even if it meant losing his job, multiple sources have told Reuters.

This led to an investigation and the sacking of Gu as deputy logistics chief later in 2012, those sources said. Mr Xu, one of Lt Gen Gu's main supporters in his rise through the ranks, was then implicated during interrogations of Lt Gen Gu.

China said in June it would court-martial Mr Xu, who retired from the Central Military Commission in 2013, for taking bribes. Lt Gen Gu was charged with corruption earlier this year. "Liu Yuan has the ability and the guts to fight corruption,"said the source with ties to the military.

Gen Liu could not be reached for comment. A relative contacted by telephone declined to comment.

Reuters has not been able to reach either Mr Xu or Lt Gen Gu for comment. It is not clear whether they have lawyers.