Published: September 3, 2013.
There are strong indications that the much-touted anti-corruption drive by China’s new leader Xi Jinping is also becoming a purge of his rivals and a route to embedding his own authority.
There has been a series of announcements in the last few weeks of investigations into senior officials. A common denominator in these cases are links to Bo Xilai, the ambitious former Communist Party boss of the western megalopolis Chongqing, who made a dramatic fall from power last year after a very public campaign for promotion to China’s hub of authority, the Politburo Standing Committee.
Bo’s populist style attracted a good deal of support among the public, but also in the top levels of the Communist Party. There was strong speculation that if Bo were appointed to the Politburo Standing Committee he would challenge Xi for the leadership. But since his fall Bo has faced charges in a stage-managed, but carefully censored trial on corruption, bribery and abuse of power charges.
The results and Bo’s sentence are expected to be announced later this month. At the very least, Bo is likely to get a long prison sentence.
The widely held suspicion now is that President Xi’s officials are circling in on Zhou Yongkang, China’s former security chief and member of the Politburo Standing Committee.
Zhou retired late last year in the transition that saw Xi appointed Communist Party General-Secretary and President of China.
Zhou was Bo’s patron and is believed to have supported Bo, replacing him as security chief on the Standing Committee.
There is also evidence that Zhou tried to protect Bo when the Chongqing party boss’ world collapsed early last year, when Bo’s police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to an American consulate.
Wang told a tale of falling out with Bo after telling Bo that his wife, Gu Kailai, had murdered her British business partner, Neil Heywood.
Gu has been tried for the murder and given a suspended death penalty. Wang has been given a long prison sentence for helping Gu to try to cover up the murder.
But in a section of evidence during his trial, which was censored by the authorities and omitted from official reports, Bo said he was acting on orders from Beijing when he, in turn, attempted to cover up the whole affair.
A transcript of the censored evidence obtained by The New York Times,1 which the newspaper said it believes is accurate and from a credible source, says Bo named his patron, security chief Zhou, as giving the cover-up order.
In the censored evidence Bo is quoted as setting out a series of moves designed to discredit Wang by suggesting he suffered from emotional instability. This “six-point guidance,” said Bo, was given him by the Central Politics and Law Commission, which was headed by Zhou.
If, as evidence suggests, Zhou is the target of Xi’s campaign, this will break an unwritten rule not to persecute retired party elders.
That rule has been followed since Deng Xiaoping restored stability to the party after the 1976 death of Mao Zedong and the end of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.
Reports from Hong Kong say senior party officials last month approved the investigation of Zhou’s conduct and the sources of what is said to be a vast family fortune, during their annual holiday at the party’s seaside resort at Beidaihe in Hebei province.
But disturbing that collegial balance now, when the party is suffering a deep-rooted lack of credibility among China’s 1.3 billion people, is very risky.
Anxiety about the party’s future under Xi’s leadership may in part explain the extraordinary flood of money leaving China last year for havens abroad.
Estimates of the exact amount that was moved out of China by party officials, their relatives and business contacts in 2012 vary widely. The low estimate is $250 billion and the high is $604 billion.
The investigation into Zhou is reported to have started last December, soon after Xi took over the leadership of the Communist Party.
Anti-corruption investigators detained dozens of party officials and businessmen in Sichuan province where Zhou was the party boss from 1999 to 2002.
Sichuan is rich in oil and natural gas, and Zhou rose to the political leadership of the province after working as a senior official in the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), the country’s largest oil company.
The graft-busters’ investigations are focussing on questionable oilfield deals while Zhou was the provincial party leader, and also the business activities of his son, Zhou Bin.
Early last month it was announced that four top managers of CNPC are under investigation.
But an even more dramatic indication of the tightening of the noose around Zhou came late last week.
Official news media announced that Jiang Jiemin, head of the Assets Supervision Administration Commission, which oversees large state-owned enterprises on behalf of the cabinet, the State Council, is under investigation for suspected corruption.
Until his appointment to the commission in March last year, Jiang was chairman of the CNPC.
Jiang’s career owes much of its success thus far to the assistance of his patron, the embattled former party security chief, Zhou Yongkang. Jonathan.firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2013 Jonathan Manthorpe
References and further reading:
1. New York Times report on trial http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/31/world/asia/in-document-fallen-chinese-official-says-he-was-obeying-orders.html?ref=world&_r=0 Accessed August 31 2013