China’s crackdown on corruption continues to take some significant scalps

Investigating very senior political figures is nothing short of dynamite

Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged to root out graft in China, from massive wealth accumulated by the powerful “tigers” of the elite or backhanders  to the “flies” at the bottom of the Communist Party. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged to root out graft in China, from massive wealth accumulated by the powerful “tigers” of the elite or backhanders to the “flies” at the bottom of the Communist Party. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters


Since Chinese president Xi Jinping made his pledge to root out graft in China, whether it involves massive wealth accumulated by the powerful “tigers” of the elite or backhanders palmed over to the “flies” at the bottom of the Communist Party, he has taken some significant scalps.

The biggest is Bo Xilai, the former party boss in Dalian and Chongqing who was purged last year, and is serving a life sentence for corruption and abuse of power, while his wife sits in jail for murder.

The biggest target since Bo is former oil boss and security czar Zhou Yongkang, who was a member of the party’s all-powerful Politburo standing committee until 2012. It is expected that formal charges against Zhou may be filed in coming weeks, and if this proves to be the case, he will be the highest profile victim yet of the crackdown on corruption.

On the “flies” end of the spectrum, a court last week jailed four activists linked to the New Citizens’ Movement, which campaigns for government transparency. Human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi was jailed for 3½ years while veteran activist Zhao Changqing was jailed for 2½ years. The New Citizens’ Movement is a loose network of activists, and their crime was campaigning for government officials to disclose their wealth.

On the face of it, the jailed activists were doing basically what the leadership says it is trying to do: get officials to declare any income they have made by exploiting their privileged positions.

The crackdown on corruption looks like a departure in the way it goes after such a senior figure as Zhou, but it could also be characterised as a purge – many senior leaders have benefited from their positions but are not facing censure.

Xi Jinping’s own family has become enormously wealthy during his ascent to power, although the president himself has been ring-fenced from direct links to his family’s billions.

Wen Jiabao’s family also appears to have profited from his years as premier. Hu Jia is one of China’s most prominent political activists, who was released in 2011 after completing a 3½-year prison sentence imposed for his human rights work. He believes Zhou’s powerful position made him difficult to prosecute, but that he is being made an example of. “After his retirement, Zhou became actually just a paper tiger, who is dying. All his high-ranking followers have been also sacked. However, this process has nothing to do with fighting against corruption because in the Communist Party system, every official is corrupt. He is just pursuing people who are against him in the name of fighting corruption,” said Hu Jia.

“This is the best way to win the people’s heart,” said Hu.

Regardless of whether this is a purge related to a faction fight, or a sign that the government is trying to be seen to be cracking down on corruption, a serious investigation into Zhou is dynamite, and the official media is even slowly beginning to hint that this is a reality.

According to the Xinhua news agency, “the most senior politician to be ensnared in a graft scandal since the Communist Party swept to power in 1949 is Zhou Yongkang, whose power base was Sichuan. Investigators have questioned a raft of senior government officials over corruption and links to Zhou.”

While appearing a statement of fact, these paragraphs on the state news agency are very strong. Zhou ruled over the police and other law enforcement agencies for nearly a decade. An investigation into a standing committee member is extremely rare, and none has been investigated for economic crimes since 1976.

Investigators have been looking into the activities of officials linked to Zhou. Guo Yongxiang, a former deputy governor of Sichuan province and a senior aide to Zhou Yongkang, has been expelled from public office and will face prosecution

The investigation is looking into Li Dongsheng, a propagandist turned vice-minister of public security. There was speculation that film producer Li Ming died in custody after being sedated as part of the investigation into Li Dongsheng.

Zhou Yongkang’s son Zhou Bin, who is a US resident, is reportedly being detained on the outskirts of Beijing so he could assist with inquiries, and barred from leaving China.

There have been stories about mistresses betraying corrupt powerful lovers during this crackdown. Sina Weibo, China’s version of the banned Twitter, has been ablaze with selfies of amorous cadres and modern-day courtesans in hotel rooms. Whatever the intention of the corruption dragnet, times are set to get tough for mistresses in China.

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