In launching an investigation into former security chief Zhou Yongkang, Chinese President Xi Jinping has entered uncharted and possibly dangerous territory. It not only raises the stakes for Xi’s increasingly iron-fisted rule, but also for the Communist Party itself. The case announced last week targets an official who until recently was ranked the third most senior member of the party hierarchy as a senior member of the elite seven-man Politburo. Zhou controlled the police, paramilitary, courts and state security. Never before has such a senior figure faced a corruption probe in Communist China, a sign that Xi is going after some of the biggest “tigers” in the party as part of a wide-reaching fight against corruption.
Wang Qishan, a current Politburo member and the head of the party’s Central Discipline and Inspection Committee is leading a purge that includes hundreds of people around Zhou. In Wang, Xi has chosen one of his most capable lieutenants to head the campaign. Wang, an erudite former banker, is very well regarded in international business circles, and was seen as a certainty to be Premier Li Keqiang’s chief deputy. In trying to trace the tortuous money trails that lead off key officials and their families, who is better qualified than a banker?
The main target has been the state oil industry clique of which Zhou was the godfather – many previously under him are now under investigation.
Zhou is by any measure a reprehensible human being. He sanctioned a program of extra-legal kidnappings and torture, and rumors remain over the death of his first wife in a car crash in 2000, leaving Zhou free to remarry a famous television anchor 28 years younger than him. The Chinese press have hinted in recent weeks that foul-play may have been at work. Read more…