Fear and Retribution in Xi’s Corruption Purge

In a special report for Reuters, David Lague provides an in-depth look at the workings of Xi Jinping’s ongoing anti-corruption drive. After detailing a dossier on CCP Central Committee member and former Liaoning governor Chen Chenggao’s lavish 2013 trip to Hong Kong, provided to Reuters with the unconcealed intent to “paint the then-governor as a profligate spender and put him in the sights of investigators,” Lague describes the intense climate of fear Xi’s purge has created within the Party, explains how ’s (CCDI) operates, and details the opaque legal process that targeted officials are subject to:

“In terms of its breadth and depth, this anti-corruption campaign is unparalleled in New China’s history,” a person with ties to the Chinese leadership said, referring to the period since the 1949 revolution when the Communists won a civil war and swept to power.

[…] In this climate of fear and retribution, the leadership is not taking chances. Security has been stepped up for Xi, his top graft buster, Wang Qishan, and General Liu Yuan who blew the whistle on rampant corruption in the military, two sources with ties to the leadership in Beijing said. General Liu, one of Xi’s closest confidantes, has received death threats for exposing senior officers who were selling promotions to top posts, the sources said. Reuters could not independently confirm the death threats.

[…] Just like the economic ministries that routinely produce eye-popping measures of China’s factory output, exports or foreign investment, the CCDI is now pumping out statistics to demonstrate the campaign’s successes. Last year, 182,038 Party members were punished for breaches of discipline, the CCDI said, without specifying the nature of the offences or the penalties. This was a 13.3 per cent increase on 2012, it said at a news conference on January 10.

[…] In an indication Xi and Wang have little faith in local authorities, the CCDI has adopted a shock and awe approach, deploying teams of graft busters across China to mount surprise inspections at all levels of government and state-owned business. The CCDI openly encourages a climate of fear. The teams aim to “uncover problems and achieve an intimidating effect,” it said in an October 16 statement on its website. […] [Source]

Months after the announcement of an official investigation, former security chief Zhou Yongkang was arrested and expelled from the Party early this month and labeled a “traitor” in state media—an indication that his fate may be execution. As David Lague points out in the above linked Reuters report, Zhou’s primary offense may have been his power jockeying ahead of the 18th Party Congress that saw Xi’s rise. This week, an investigation into former Hu Jintao aide Ling Jihua was officially announced. The Wall Street Journal’s Brian Spegele reviews a prior scandal involving Ling that has now resurfaced, explains how the investigation into him reveals the political weakness of Xi’s predecessor, and reiterates Xi’s use of the anti-corruption campaign to shore up his own power:

he probe, disclosed late Monday, into whether committed unspecified violations of party discipline opens a new chapter in President Xi Jinping ’s war on corruption.

As he seeks to uproot graft, Mr. Xi has used the campaign to bolster his own . In taking aim at a onetime ally of Mr. Hu, he is making a bet that could spark new discord among party elites, some political scholars said.

“So many people won’t be able to sleep,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian and expert on Chinese politics. “Anticorruption has from start to finish just been a slogan. It is still by nature a struggle for political power.”He added that Messrs. Hu and Xi ultimately were likely in agreement on the decision to put Mr. Ling under investigation.

[…] The process will likely continue through the next several months and could set the stage for a major conclave of party leaders, the 19th Party Congress, in 2017. At that time, five of the Politburo Standing Committee’s seven members—all except Mr. Xi and Premier Li Keqiang —are due to retire, providing Mr. Xi a chance to populate China’s top leadership body with his allies. [Source]

While Xi’s  campaign is doing much to consolidate his power, it also appears to be quashing some of the illicit perks long associated with Chinese officialdom, and with them the public desire for once-coveted government posts. For NPR, Frank Langfitt talks to a local Shanghai official about how the anti-corruption drive is affecting wallets and morale in the Party’s lower levels:

In the past, Wang regularly racked up a laundry list of perks, everything from moon cakes, a traditional autumn sweet, to a bonus of more than $3,000 at the Chinese New Year.

All that changed this year due to the anti-corruption campaign.

“All of a sudden, my income fell about 30 percent,” said Wang over a mocha at a Shanghai Starbucks. “Practically all our perks vanished. It’s a very big blow to everyone’s morale.” […] [Source]