By Megha Rajagopalan
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered his top brass to spend two weeks as junior soldiers every few years as a way of boosting military morale - but skeptics doubt the move will do much more than polish his own credentials as commander in chief.
Under the directive, published by the defense ministry, the temporary and symbolic demotion applies to lieutenant colonels and above - although it is primarily aimed at senior officers aged under 55 or who have not come up through the lower ranks.
"It will help to purify the soul and be the prevention and cure for laziness, lax discipline, extravagance and other bureaucratic illnesses," the official People's Liberation Army Daily said of the measure in a commentary on Tuesday.
The move recalled a similar one made by former paramount leader Mao Zedong in 1958, the newspaper added.
Some political analysts said the gesture was likely part of Xi's public campaign to be seen as tough on privilege and corruption, given that media reports of graft in the military are on the rise again after a 1990s crackdown.
"Xi Jinping would like to build his image and his power, showing to the whole nation that he will overcome the corruption problem," said Johnny Lau, an independent writer and political analyst in Hong Kong. "But there is no change in anti-corruption regulations for the whole army."
"This shows that Xi Jinping can only do minor things to discourage corruption in the army," he added.
Under the directive, which also covers the People's Armed Police, China's domestic security force, senior officers must bring their own personal supplies and not accept lavish dinners or gifts for the full 15 days, according to details published on the defense ministry's website on Sunday.
They will dine and bunk with junior cadres, it added.
Leaders of central headquarters and military districts must serve as low-ranking troops once every five years, while lower-ranking officers must serve once every three or four years.
Xi, who oversees the powerful Central Military Commission, has made fighting graft a central theme since assuming the top job in the ruling Communist Party and the military in November. He has warned that corruption threatens the party's survival.
"For organizational chiefs and government functionaries, Central Military Commission leaders strongly emphasize that the grassroots are the foundation and basic support for building the army, strengthening basic modes of thought and establishing a bright path forward," the defense ministry said.
"To serve, one must serve genuinely."
Xi issued a directive last December banning army officials from binge drinking.
(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan Editing by Sui-Lee Wee and Mark Bendeich)