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China

China's Railways Minister, And A Runaway Train Of Corruption

The sensational details surrounding the case of disgraced Liu Zhijun have captivated the public and media. But the real question is why is this the norm?

Dalian Railway Station in northeastern China
Dalian Railway Station in northeastern China
Chen Jieren

BEIJING - Former Chinese Railways Minister Liu Zhijun has been charged with abuse of power and accepting bribes.

The case has captivated the public and the media, which have tended to focus on the sensational questions surrounding the case. How many mistresses did Liu have? How big a fortune did he amass? What was his relationship with businesswoman and philanthropist Ding Shumiao? But fewer seemed concerned with the most important question: How was such an unbelievable case able to develop in the first place?

Liu’s story is the result of a twisted political environment that’s generated, and will continue to generate, such incredible cases.

In the absence of democratic elections, Chinese officials turn to nepotism. This means if they want to get promoted, they’ll look to a higher official rather than the people they’re responsible to. They’ll also forge political alliances that will come in handy when the heat is on.

During Liu’s term, he weathered many crises that would have been fatal blows to other officials. For instance, Liu’s brother Liu Zhixiang, former director of the Wuhan Railway Bureau, took bribes of more than 30 million yuan ($4.8 million) and plotted the murder of a whistleblower.

Either of those things would have been enough to sentence Liu Zhixiang to death, but he survived and was given only a 16-year sentence thanks to Liu Zhijun’s patronage. Meanwhile, Liu Zhijun came out of the scandal unscathed.

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Geopolitics

Russia's Military Failures Are Really About Its Soldiers

No doubt, strategic errors and corruption at the highest ranks in the Kremlin are partly to blame for the Russian military's stunning difficulties in Ukraine. But the roots run deeper, where the ordinary recruits come from, how they are exploited, how they react.

Army reserve soldiers go to Red Square to attend a Pioneer Induction ceremony

Anna Akage

To the great relief of Ukraine and the great surprise of the rest of the world, the Russian army — considered until February 24, the second strongest in the world — is now eminently beatable on the battlefield against Ukrainian forces operating with vastly inferior firepower.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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After renouncing the original ambitions to take Kyiv and unseat the Ukrainian government, the focus turned to the southeastern region of Donbas, where a would-be great battle on a scale comparable to World War II Soviet victories has turned into a quagmire peppered with laughable updates by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on TikTok.

The Russians have not managed to occupy a single significant Ukrainian city, except Kherson, which they partially destroyed and now find difficult to hold. Meanwhile, Ukrainian civilians are left to suffer the bombing of cities and villages from Lviv to Odessa, with looting, torture and assorted war crimes.

The reasons for both the poor performance and atrocities are many, and include deep-seated corruption and lack of professionalism up through the highest ranks, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who had never served in the army, and arrived in his position only because of his loyalty to the No. 1 man in the Kremlin.

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