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Retired Chinese General Liu Yazhou Could Be Sentenced for ‘Serious Economic Corruption’ and ‘Political Ambitions: Hong Kong Media

Liu is rumored to have disagreed with Xi Jinping's "soft" stance towards Taiwan and the U.S.
Leo Timm
Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: April 4, 2023
Liu Yazhou, a retired senior general of the PLA Air Force. (Image: Sina military news file photo)

Ming Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper known for reporting information leaking from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime establishment, claimed in a March 24 piece that according to various sources in Beijing, former People’s Liberation Army (PLA) air force Gen. Liu Yazhou could receive a suspended death sentence for “serious economic corruption”; the sentence would be commuted to life imprisonment after two years.

Observers and previously reported insider claims point to Liu having disagreed with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on how Communist China should handle Taiwan, with the hawkish general ridiculing Xi for not taking strong enough action on what Beijing considers a renegade province to be “recovered.”

While Ming Pao has a mixed track record when it comes to the veracity of the information it cites, this can be partially blamed on disinformation spread by the CCP or elements within the regime.

The Hong Kong outlet is far from the only source claiming that Gen. Liu, who was a senior commander in the PLA, is in trouble. As early as February 2022, “second-generation red” (i.e. the children of Party officials) writer Bi Ruxie, who lives in the U.S, said that Liu could be given a heavy sentence based on his opposition to Xi.

According to Bi, who cited information from Party insiders, Liu Yazhou had been criticized by Xi in a 40-minute secret speech; Xi supposedly said that Liu was not only guilty of “economic problems” but also harbored political ambitions and had set up a factional network to further his aims.

A group of J-10 air fighters perform during an aerial show held to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force on November 15, 2009 in Beijing, China. (Image: China Photos/Getty Images)

Bi’s other claims about Liu were summarized in an April 3 issue of a newsletter published by SinoInsider, a political risk consultancy focusing on elite politics in China. The claims focus on the familial relationship between Liu and former People’s Republic of China (PRC) president Li Xiannian, whose daughter Li Xiaolin is married to Liu.

According to Bi, “Party princelings do not believe that Liu had established [factional] strongholds. The princelings noted that early reports of the investigation into Liu only found him to have ‘economic problems,’ engaged in promiscuous relations, and offended Xi Jinping with ‘a lot of strange political talk,'” as paraphrased by SinoInsider.

The first news that Liu Yazhou had been arrested came in December 2021, and in February the next year, China hand Michael Pillsbury told Radio Free Asia that the CCP’s Central Military Commission had placed Liu in detention in late 2021 over “economic crimes and political problems.”

Disagreements over Taiwan policy

The most recent claims by Ming Pao correlate with those made by Bi Ruxie.

In the newsletter, SinoInsider points to its earlier analyses, which observe that Liu appears to represent a wing of the Party that holds Xi responsible for letting Taiwan drift into stronger alliance with the U.S. and perhaps even formal independence — something anathema to the CCP, which has vowed to unify the island under PRC sovereignty at all costs.

Ming Pao’s latest reporting comes after Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen’s trip to the U.S., which is derided by the PRC state media as a violation of Chinese sovereignty.

SinoInsider notes that the CCP’s reaction to the visit and other developments in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship have been relatively subdued beyond the “usual warnings,” such as flights of PLA aircraft near the island.

The consultancy believes that due to pressing economic and social crises rising in mainland China — such as the “white paper” protests that rocked the country last November following three years of crushing “zero-COVID” lockdowns — the Xi leadership is unable to risk a strong response to Taiwan and Washington’s testing of PRC “red lines” on the issue of the island’s sovereignty. Neither is the PLA currently capable of successfully invading Taiwan.

“Beijing’s more measured approach to the matter of Taiwan ‘reunification’ opens Xi Jinping up to criticism from the more hawkish elements in the CCP elite and his remaining factional rivals,” the newsletter reads.

“To silence his critics, Xi would have to signal to the Party elite that disagreements over his current Taiwan strategy will not be tolerated,” which could have promoted leaks of information about Liu Yazhou’s case to Ming Pao.