Sun Zhengcai, Once Seen as Future Leader, Stands Trial

Former Politburo member Sun Zhengcai stood trial for bribery in Tianjin on Thursday, the biggest "tiger" in years to fall in top leader ’s signature anti- campaign. From Xinhua:

Between 2002 and 2017, Sun took advantage of his posts to provide help for certain units and individuals in project procurement, enterprise operation and adjustment of official positions, and accepted money and property worth 170 million yuan (27.1 million U.S. dollars), either by himself or through "certain affiliated persons," according to an indictment by the first branch of the Tianjin People’s Procuratorate.

[…] Prosecutors as well as Sun and his defense attorneys examined the evidence. Both sides questioned the two witnesses who testified in court and fully expressed their opinions, according to the court’s statement.

In his final statement, Sun said he deserved his punishment and he had no objections to the charges.

He admitted his guilt, repented for his wrongdoing and said he would sincerely submit to the court’s judgement, according to the court’s statement. [Source]

Sun was once viewed as a future contender for top leadership, and was prominently installed as the Party chief of Chongqing following the scandalous fall of its former leader in 2012. Last July, however, Sun was abruptly removed from his post and placed under investigation, then expelled from the Party in September and indicted in February.

While Chinese authorities have rejected suggestions that the anti-corruption campaign has been used as a political weapon—Xi himself said in 2016 that “our party’s fight against corruption is not a House of Cards power struggle“—there have been explicit political dimensions to Sun’s case. His removal from possible leadership was immediately seen as a fresh sign of Xi Jinping’s ambitions for extended rule, which after years of speculation were confirmed this spring with the abolition of presidential term limits. During the 19th Party Congress in October, Sun and other former senior Party and military officials were publicly accused of having conspired to seize power from Xi. Thursday’s trial did not address these claims. The political condemnations continued at this year’s Two Sessions, South China Morning Post’s Nectar Gan reports:

After the accusations were levelled at Sun he was replaced in by Chen Miner, a protégé of President Xi Jinping and a rising political star.

During China’s annual parliamentary sessions in Beijing last month, Chen lashed out at Sun for “complying in appearance but opposing in his heart” central government policies.

“Sun did follow [the central leadership’s line] when he was reading from the script, but he had never done so in his heart,” Chen was quoted as saying by Chinese media.

After the parliamentary meetings, Chongqing’s official newspaper published a series of articles criticising Sun’s record in the city.

His wrongdoings included launching projects nominally aimed at improving people’s livelihoods, but delivering no results; being apathetic to people’s suffering and safety by not showing up at disaster scenes; and distorting central government policies in their implementation to fit his own ideas, the reports said. [Source]

Chen’s accusation that Sun was "’complying in appearance but opposing in his heart’ central government policies" echoes a CCDI statement against former cyberczar Lu Wei upon his own expulsion from the Party in February.

As in other high-profile political , whether of fallen officials or activists and rights lawyers, official sources emphatically claimed that Thursday’s proceedings were open, transparent, and fair. The AFP noted, however, that this openness had limits:

The court said more than 130 people attended the trial, including members of the country’s top political advisory body and media.

But some 20 plainclothes officers prevented an AFP reporter from entering the court and surrounded the journalist for more than 20 minutes, saying she should have registered to attend the hearing in advance. One officer pushed the journalist and shouted. [Source]