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China's anti-corruption drive snares biggest name so far

Investigation of Zhou Yonkang is campaign's 'biggest bombshell'

Peter Ford for Christian Science Monitor

Peter Ford for Christian Science Monitor

Published: July 30, 2014 05:01 AM GMT

Updated: July 29, 2014 06:11 PM GMT

China's anti-corruption drive snares biggest name so far

Picture: Christian Science Monitor/AP

Dropping the biggest bombshell to date in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anticorruption campaign, the ruling Communist Party announced Tuesday that one of its most senior elder statesmen is being investigated for suspected “serious disciplinary violation.”

Zhou Yongkang, who was head of China’s all-powerful security apparatus and one of the party’s top nine leaders until 2012, has not been seen in public for months. If tried and convicted he would be the most senior official found guilty of corruption since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. 

The news of his detention had long been anticipated. Since Mr. Zhou disappeared at the end of last year, reportedly held under house arrest, scores of his relatives, former aides, and political allies have been detained in a campaign to destroy his political support network.

For the past 18 months Mr. Xi has been orchestrating a crusade against the widespread corruption that afflicts the ruling party, pledging to bring down both “tigers” – powerful figures – and “flies,” more junior officials. Zhou is the fiercest tiger yet captured in the hunt. 

The official announcement that he is under investigation – which in China is tantamount to a declaration of his guilt – appears to mark a new victory in Xi’s bid to stamp his personal authority on the Communist party leadership and to eliminate or cow actual or potential rivals.

It is also likely to fuel debate inside and outside China about whether the anticorruption campaign – only the latest, albeit the most wide-ranging in a long history of such efforts – is a political bid to consolidate Xi’s position or a real drive to clean up the Communist Party.

There are good reasons to believe that it is both. 

Of course the campaign is political. It is not the police force, nor any prosecutor, who is choosing the targets for investigation nor gathering the evidence against them. It is the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, an organ of the Communist Party. Xi and his ally Wang Qishan, head of the CCDI, decide, for their own reasons, whom to bring down and when.

And in a system where corruption is endemic, reaching to the inner sanctum of state power to judge by some of the cases that have come to light, Xi and his closest confidants also decide who will be spared. Until a close friend or political ally of Xi’s is investigated on suspicion of corruption, the campaign will inevitably carry the whiff of political motivation.

Nor can the campaign continue at its current intensity forever, without destabilizing the networks of power and influence that hold the Chinese system of government together. When to ease off will also be a political decision. 

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But the campaign is clearly more than a high level assault on senior figures who might in some fashion threaten Xi’s personal position.

The president seems to see his high-risk crusade as nothing less than a battle for the Communist Party’s survival, essential to improving its legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary citizens. Chinese leaders have been warning for years that blatant official corruption is eroding such faith as people have in their rulers. None of them, until now, has done much about it.

So far, about 30 senior officials, ranking at or above vice minister level, have been detained, put under investigation or expelled from the party for “serious disciplinary violations,” officialese for bribery.

 

Full Story: Xi Jinping's anticorruption in China drive snares a tiger

Source:Christian Science Monitor

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