With the formal announcement that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is investigating Zhou Yongkang (周永康) for suspected “serious disciplinary violations,” Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) campaign to purge corrupt party, state and military cadres has reached a crescendo.
Until his retirement in December 2012, Zhou was a member of the CCP’s Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) — China’s apex of power — and the regime’s security czar. A much feared leader, Zhou oversaw China’s police, security apparatus, paramilitary police and other law enforcement agencies.
Xi has pledged to take down “tigers” (senior officials) as well as “flies” (lower-rank officials) in his campaign against corruption.
On June 30, the party hunted down a big tiger in the military, General Xu Caihou (徐才厚), formerly a CCP Politburo member and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. He was expelled from the party and must stand trial on charges of receiving bribes, sale of positions, embezzling state funds and assets and illegally amassing a fortune worth more than 20 billion yuan (US$3.2 billion).
In the move against Zhou, a bigger and more ferocious tiger, Xi has broken a precedent in the post-Mao Zedong (毛澤東) leadership era that members of the PSC would not be investigated and disgraced after retirement.
Zhou has been under virtual house arrest to face questioning and investigation on charges of corruption and other serious misdeeds by a special task force set up under the Chinese Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the regime’s top graft watchdog.
In March, Chinese authorities seized assets worth more than 90 billion yuan from Zhou’s family members and associates, sources inside China said. More than 300 of Zhou’s relatives, political allies, proteges and staff were taken into custody. They included Zhou’s son, Zhou Bin (周濱), a prominent business tycoon, and Jiang Jiemin (蔣潔敏), former chairman of China National Petroleum Co, as well as proteges in state-owned enterprises, especially in the energy sectors.
By international standards, Chinese officials are poorly paid, so whereas in the US people get rich to get into politics, in China they get into politics to get rich.
To cope with the widespread and rampant official corruption, Wang Qishan (王歧山), a member of the PSC and one of Xi’s political allies, is in charge of the anti-graft watchdog. He has been proactive, dispatching inspection teams to all the provinces and major municipalities to probe cases of bribery, sale of positions, illegal land grabs, as well as embezzlement of government funds and state assets.
The watchdog, in particular, targets so-called “naked officials” who work in China alone having sent their family members abroad.
An official report said that, up to June, more than 480 officials from 31 provinces and municipalities had come under investigation or been sent to court, among them 30 ministry or high-level provincial officials.
There is a widespread belief among Chinese that almost each and every official is corrupt, and Zhou Yongkang, former Chongqing Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來), Xu and their like deserve to go to jail. However, the public also believes that these fallen officials are in legal trouble because they have lost in the party’s power struggle. They know too well that several Shanghai and Beijing leaders, including Chen Liangyu (陳良宇) and Chen Xitong (陳希同), were charged with corruption and sent to jail because they lost political battles against former Chinese presidents Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Jiang Zemin (江澤民) respectively, on separate occasions in the past decade.