An unprecedented investigation has been launched into alleged wrongdoing by a member of China's top leadership.
The Communist Party of China decided to conduct the probe into Zhou Yongkang, a former head of the party’s Central Politics and Law Commission and once the ninth-ranking member of the party. Zhou was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) until autumn 2012.
The party is investigating him over “serious violations of party discipline”, and plans to prosecute the case.
No details have been released about the charges Zhou faces, but since last year, his aides and former subordinates have been brought up on corruption-related charges one after another. As Zhou himself is strongly believed to be involved in corruption, it is likely that he has already been detained.
There are currently only seven members of the PSC, which sits atop the gigantic party structure, including President Xi Jinping. There were nine when Zhou held his office at the PSC.
There was said to be an unwritten rule that the wrongdoings of a small handful of high-ranking officials were not prosecuted to avoid party fissures and maintain party prestige. However, proliferating corruption is a source of discontent and mistrust among the people, and is seen as a grave problem for the survival of the party.
Xi, who promised with his sweeping anti-corruption campaign to target all levels from high-ranking “tigers” to low-level “flies”, may have had no choice but to break the taboo.
Charging this big tiger is aimed at demonstrating to the people the party’s firm stance on eradicating corruption.
Anti-corruption is also likely to be high on the agenda at the general meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee scheduled for October.
Zhou member of ‘oil faction’
In China, anti-corruption charges are closely tied to power struggles within the party.
Zhou is a central figure in the “oil faction” within the Communist Party, a network of influential politicians who have ties with China’s petroleum industry. As the head of the party’s Central Politics and Law Commission, he also assumed control of the security and judicial sectors.
Zhou is said to be backed by former Chinese Communist Party general secretary Jiang Zemin and former PSC member Zeng Qinghong, who is an aide to Jiang. Zhou is believed to be close to former Politburo member Bo Xilai, who was sentenced to life in prison for corruption last year.
Xi is hurriedly concentrating power in his own hands, assuming one top position after another in organisations leading security and economic reform.
Charging Zhou and stemming the influence of those with vested interests, including Zhou’s oil faction, as well as the influence of Jiang’s faction, appear to be part of Xi’s efforts to consolidate his power base. But it is too early to say that such moves by the president will make his administration stable.
Charging Zhou may be welcomed by the people in the short term, but the deep-rooted nature of corruption in the party remains unchanged. There are fears that opposition to Xi’s high-handed approach could grow stronger within the party. China’s society and politics still have a long way to go to reach stability.
If domestic politics become unstable, Xi could leverage his self-righteous foreign policies to appeal to patriotism among the people. Japan needs to carefully watch the power struggles playing out behind the anti-corruption charges.