Chinese general commits suicide after facing graft probe: Xinhua

Zhang Yang, head of General Political Department of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), attending a meeting in Beijing, on Jan 13, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - A top Chinese general committed suicide after authorities opened an investigation against him over his links to two corruption-tainted former senior military officers, state media said Tuesday (Nov 28).

Zhang Yang, a member of the Central Military Commission, hanged himself in his Beijing home on Nov 23, Xinhua news agency said, citing a commission statement.

Zhang, 66, was the latest official to be ensnared in President Xi Jinping's sweeping anti-corruption campaign, which has brought down 1.5 million Communist Party officials of various levels as well as top military brass since 2012.

Zhang, who was the director of the commission's general political department, was investigated in connection to Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, top military officials who were expelled from the ruling Communist Party.

Guo, a vice-chairman of the commission, became the most senior People's Liberation Army (PLA) official to be convicted of corruption in half of century when he was sentenced to life in prison in 2016.

Xu, also a vice-chairman of the commission, died of cancer in 2015 while undergoing a probe for graft.

In September, Hong Kong's Sing Tao Daily newspaper, citing unnamed people from Beijing, reported that Zhang was one of two officials being investigated for suspected breaches of party discipline.

According to Xinhua, Zhang "gravely violated disciplinary protocols and broke the law, was suspected of bribery as well as taking bribes, and holding valuable assets whose origins are unclear".

A post on a social media account managed by the People's Liberation Army Daily, the military's official newspaper, accused Zhang of "escaping responsibility" via suicide.

"The once-high-and-mighty general has ended his life in this disgraceful way," the post said on Tuesday, calling Zhang a "two-faced" person who "shouted loyalty from his mouth while committing corruption behind his back".

"The army holds the barrel of a gun - we cannot allow any corrupt elements to hide behind it."

Critics of Xi's anti-corruption campaign, which has promised to take down both high-level "tigers" and low-level "flies", claim it is a front for removing the president's political enemies.

In the past, graft-fighting efforts have relied heavily on a shadowy, extralegal internal justice system known as "shuanggui".

But Xi announced during last month's national congress that the tool will be phased out and replaced with a new legal mechanism.

Chinese courts have a near-perfect conviction rate of 99.92 per cent.

Xi has sought to enhance his control over the two-million-strong military, the world's largest, reshuffling its leadership and vowing to make it "world-class" by 2050.

The military was ordered earlier this month to pledge to be "absolutely loyal, honest and reliable to Xi" in a new guideline released by the military leadership.

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