Ahead of China's New Year, Xi pushes for clean, reformed military

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping has used a traditional visit to outlying regions before the Lunar New Year to urge the military to ensure they are free from corruption and following party orders on reform and training.

Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the media during an official visit in Bern, Switzerland January 16, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Chinese leaders generally use the time around the festival to make inspection trips around the country where they flag important policy initiatives or areas of concern for the year ahead.

The week-long holiday, starting on the eve of the new year, on Friday, is the most important in the Chinese calendar, when millions of people travel home, many for the only time in the year.

Visiting troops based in Zhangjiakou, a city in Beijing’s neighboring Hebei province, Xi pressed home his message about the importance of fighting corruption, especially in the armed forces.

“Fully and thoroughly purge the pernicious influence of Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou,” state television paraphrased Xi as saying, referring to two senior former officers felled in the government’s fight on graft.

Guo and Xu were both vice chairmen of the powerful Central Military Commission, which Xi heads. Guo was jailed for life last year. Xu died of cancer in 2015 before he could face trial.

Xi is overseeing an ambitious military modernization program, which includes the painful culling of 300,000 members from the ranks, as well as developing high-tech weapons like stealth fighters and aircraft carriers.

That, along with China’s increasingly assertive moves in the disputed South China Sea, has rattled nerves around the region, though China insists its intentions are peaceful.

Xi said China should build a strong military by improving its political awareness, pushing ahead with reform and making sure it follows the law, state television said, showing pictures of him chatting with soldiers in their barracks and asking them about their living conditions.

Xi also underscored the importance of improving combat readiness through training, the report said.

“Grasp the enforcement of the reform mission,” he added.

Xi will likely make visits to other parts of the country ahead of and during the holiday.

This week, he visited sites around Zhangjiakou that will host outdoor events when China hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics, stressing money must be spent properly and no “grandiose” projects be allowed for the Games.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard