As associates and family members of Zhou Yongkang are being detained and questioned in an expanding corruption probe, many assume that Zhou himself is the ultimate target. For the BBC, Carrie Gracie visits Zhou’s hometown and looks at why Xi Jinping has chosen to target one of the most powerful and feared men in China, who has access to huge amounts of information about the secret dealings of government officials, including Xi himself:
“Three reasons,” says political analyst Deng Yuwen.
[…] “The first reason for taking on this tiger, is to consolidate power and gain respect.
“The second is to push forward reform. There are lots of powerful people in government whose wealth is not clean, and they all have a vested interest in the status quo.
“If you want to reform the economy now, you have to find a place to break through their lines. Zhou Yongkang is that place.
“The third reason is to improve the image of the Communist Party.” [Source]
Gracie’s report includes an infographic on Zhou’s spheres of influence.
As Gracie points out, while domestic and foreign media are reporting on investigations into his associates, Zhou’s name has not been mentioned in the official media nor has he been seen in public in months, adding to the intrigue. At the South China Morning Post, Wang Xiangwei argues that the delay in handling his case may have to do with internal disagreement within the Party:
So what is going on? Some analysts say the leadership is proceeding cautiously, weighing all the implications, given the deep embarrassment and implication to its legitimacy that a public acknowledgment of Zhou’s case would cause. The announcement would require very delicate wording, and that may partly explain the delay.
Over the past few weeks, however, there are credible suggestions the delay appears to be largely caused by a difference of opinion within the party hierarchy over how to proceed with Zhou once preliminary findings of the internal investigation were available. These findings might indicate Zhou is implicit in abuse of power and helping close associates and family members illegally accumulate wealth, all while living a “decadent life”. But anti-graft investigators might not have found enough solid evidence to link Zhou directly to bribery and other illegal activities.
There are suggestions he has refused to confess to breaking the law. Zhou appears to have learned from the case against Bo Xilai , a former rising star within the party and widely believed to have been a key political ally. Bo was jailed for life in September on charges of corruption and abuse of power, but during his trial, he insisted he was coerced into confessing.
Some officials are believed to have lobbied that Zhou be treated with leniency, taking as precedent the case against Cheng Weigao, the former party chief of Hebei province. In 2003, Cheng was expelled from the party for using his position to allow his wife and his son to engage in corruption, and over the illegal activities of two former secretaries, including Li Zhen, who was later executed. [Source]