South China Morning Post reports that Party leaders have agreed to launch a corruption investigation into former security chief Zhou Yongkang, though the probe may not be made public until after high-level meetings in November.
The move against Zhou – a retired member of the Politburo’s all-powerful Standing Committee – could send even bigger political shockwaves through Beijing than the trial of Bo Xilai, who was widely considered a key Zhou ally.
Current and retired top leaders endorsed the decision earlier this month during the secretive annual party meeting at the resort of Beidaihe in Hebei province. According to sources familiar with the leadership’s thinking, President Xi Jinping and his administration are determined to use the case to galvanise the anti-graft campaign.
No Politburo Standing Committee member – retired or sitting – has been investigated for economic crimes since the end of the Cultural Revolution nearly 40 years ago.
[…] By investigating Zhou, who is one rank higher than Bo in the power structure, Xi would be seeking the biggest scalp in the party’s campaign against graft. [Source]
The Post’s Patrick Boehler has posted a multimedia timeline of Zhou’s career, including his time at the China National Petroleum Corporation and as Party chief in Sichuan, thought to be the focus of the investigation. Four CNPC executives were reported to be under investigation this week, including vice president Wang Yongchun, but as Simon Denyer reported at The Washington Post, some observers saw this as a move to isolate Zhou rather than to attack him head-on:
Ever since Bo’s fall from grace, there has been speculation that one of his strongest and most powerful supporters, former security chief Zhou Yongkang, could be the next to be ousted. While it is considered unlikely that Xi would want to directly take on someone as senior as Zhou, who served until last year as a member of the party’s elite Standing Committee, Wang’s arrest could be an attempt to clip his wings. Zhou was widely seen as controlling the state’s monopoly of the oil sector.
“The aim of this operation is to separate Zhou Yongkang from the current political layout,” said Li Weidong, a political commentator and former editor of China Reform magazine. “This is not a swipe at the tiger but meant to transform the tiger into a cat.” [Source]