China has launched a sweeping crackdown on graft in the boom city of Shenzhen, seeking to rein in unruly officials and soothe public anger over high-level vice, analysts said.
The campaign, which has already cost the city mayor his job, comes just three years after an anti-corruption drive led to a trail of top officials and businessmen being jailed in Shanghai in a similar case.
“It is a large-scale anti-corruption case in a province at the forefront of reforms, where there is large money,” said Willy Lam (林和立), an expert on Chinese politics at the Jamestown Foundation, a US think tank. “It is not surprising there is corruption there, and a high degree of collusion between politics and business.”
Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) has repeatedly insisted that fighting corruption is a question of “life and death” for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the fact that the battle is now taken to Shenzhen only raises the stakes.
Just a fishing village a generation ago, Shenzhen is now a city of 11 million people.
Its hypermodern skyline is seen as testimony to the achievements of China’s market experiments, but to many the emerging corruption case reflects the dark side of reform.
Shenzhen Mayor Xu Zongheng (許宗衡), 53, was placed under internal CCP investigation earlier this month for “serious violations of discipline,” state media reported.
Such charges often result in graft convictions in China’s judicial system.
It may have especially triggered Beijing’s ire that Xu reportedly bought his way to power, challenging the party’s monopoly on appointments.
“It’s very important for the party to ensure subordination and discipline among officials,” said Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩), a China watcher at City University of Hong Kong.
Media reports say Xu is also being probed for links to Huang Guangyu (黃光裕), formerly China’s second-richest man and the founder of Gome Electrical Appliances. Huang was arrested earlier this year on suspicion of financial crimes, including manipulation of the stock market.
Xu’s wife as well as a vice mayor, a former assistant minister of police, and a leading Guangdong politician may also be under investigation for alleged links to Huang, local media have said.
Some have pointed to echoes of the case surrounding Chen Liangyu (陳良宇), Shanghai’s former top party official, who was convicted of accepting bribes and abusing his power. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison in April 2008, becoming the highest CCP leader to be jailed for graft since 1995.
“There is a bit of an impression that after Shanghai comes Guangdong,” said Jean-Philippe Beja, a Hong Kong-based China scholar with the French National Center for Scientific Research and a prolific writer on Chinese politics.
Meanwhile, Lam said the crackdown was unlikely to expand much further: “The campaign is coming to an end: morale is very low in Guangdong, officials are afraid and need to be reassured.”