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China's Big Purge is on: the 'Tigers and Flies' anti-graft campaign

The Big Purge is on in China. The level of graft in high places has angered the Chinese public to the point that the sight of another Rolex-toting official only convinces them that the system of corruption remains unshaken.

President Xi Jinping has taken office with a firm pledge to rid corruption from the top, in line with an old Chinese saying: "The fish rots from the head."

But the question remains: How real is China's anti-corruption campaign?

So far, 15 senior officials at ministerial-level and above have been placed under investigation on allegations of corruption in the first half of this year. Of the 15, 13 are at ministerial level. The charges: "suspected grave violations of discipline and law."

At the forefront of this widely publicised drive is the country's top anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) of the Communist Party of China.

The latest and most dramatic case came last Monday when Xu Caihou, former vice-chairman of China's Central Military Commission, was unceremoniously kicked out of the Party on bribery allegations. The move was all the more sensational for the fact that Xu is a former member of the top-ruling Politburo of the Party. This most powerful political body has 25 members.

The allegations against Xu Caihou - taking bribes in exchange for giving promotions when he was the No 2 of China's 2.3 million-strong military until his retirement last year - represent the most prominent corruption case since the one that brought the downfall of Bo Xilai in 2013.

Observers have noted that President Xi Jinping has taken on both "big tigers", such as Xu Caihou, and "small flies".

Chinese state media, which prominently reported Xu's indictment, also released the names of three other men expelled from the Party for graft. They are also expected to face official charges in the future.

Another high-profile case is that Su Rong, 66, former vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee. He was removed from his post at the top advisory body on June 25, only 11 days after the CCDI kicked off the investigation.

Another senior official who has come under the axe is Wan Qingliang, Party chief of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province. Wan's downfall came as a surprise to many. He is only 50 and was considered a "rising star" - promoted to become the youngest mayor of Guangzhou city when he was only 46.

The youngest senior official to come under investigation is Ji Wenlin, 48, former vice governor of Hainan province. He was secretary to a senior official before assuming the post as vice-governor on January 31, last year.

As of last week, the anti-graft body had made public 314 cases in which officials from various government agencies, public institutes and state-owned enterprises have been investigated on allegations of corruption.

Chinese people are being flooded with a constant stream of headlines in the state media, announcing new probes into business executives and political officials alike.

No doubt, China's leaders have adopted the widely publicised anti-graft campaign to regain legitimacy and trust for the Communist Party in the eyes of the people.

Xi Jinping has promised to punish corrupt officials at all levels. He said he would take to task officials at all levels, both "tigers and flies".

The Chinese leader probably realises that most Chinese people will be cynical about the claim of "a serious campaign against corruption". But when he began the so-called "petro purge" at the state oil companies (highlighted by the sacking of Jiang Jiemin, chairman of China National Petroleum Corporation), Xi was praised for his move. One China-based academic has been quoted as saying: "This anti-corruption campaign looks like it's for real. A crackdown of this degree is unprecedented - and the level of officials getting investigated is getting higher and higher."

It's going to be a huge challenge for President Xi, but now that he has taken on some of the most powerful figures in the Party, there is no going back for him. The firmness of his grip on power depends on his carrying this big campaign through - to the end.


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