China sees back­lash to ‘tiger’ hunt

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY TOM HAN­COCK

The jail­ing of China’s for­mer se­cu­rity chief Zhou Yongkang marks the high­est point of a cor­rup­tion crack­down pushed by Xi Jin­ping, but ef­forts ap­pear to be slow­ing with an­a­lysts cit­ing op­po­si­tion from of­fi­cials.

Sen­tenced to life in pri­son on Thurs­day, Zhou was once ar­guably China’s third most pow­er­ful man, in charge of the coun­try’s po­lice, courts and se­cret ser­vice when he re­tired in 2012.

The pros­e­cu­tion of such a fig­ure shows Xi has con­sol­i­dated a for­mi­da­ble power base in the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party since he be­came its head in the same year.

But an ap­par­ent slow­ing in the pace of graft probes aimed at se­nior of­fi­cials la­beled by Xi as “tigers” sug­gests in­ter­nal op­po­si­tion is slow­ing his high-pro­file cam­paign against graft, an­a­lysts said.

As a for­mer mem­ber of the party’s elite Polit­buro Stand­ing Com­mit­tee, Zhou is the most se­nior for­mer of­fi­cial to be jailed for cor­rup­tion since the Com­mu­nist party took power al­most 70 years ago.

“There was pre­vi­ously a tacit agree­ment not to tackle any­one on the stand­ing com­mit­tee,” Zhang Ming, pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor at Bei­jing’s Ren­min Uni­ver­sity said.

“That agree­ment has now been bro­ken.”

The Com­mu­nist party tightly con­trols China’s court sys­tem, de­ter­min­ing ver­dicts in ma­jor tri­als through an opaque process of back­room ne­go­ti­a­tion.

An­a­lysts said Xi’s power is con­strained by re­tired of­fi­cials such as for­mer Pres­i­dent Jiang Zemin, who are ea­ger to pro­tect their rep­u­ta­tions and al­lies in the party.

Joseph Few­smith, Chi­nese pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor at Bos­ton Uni­ver­sity, said Zhou’s down­fall “marks a ma­jor mile­stone in Xi’s con­sol­i­da­tion of power.”

But he added: “(party) el­ders would have had to agree with the ver­dict.”

China’s Com­mu­nist Party has around 86 mil­lion mem­bers, and its in­ter­nal dis­ci­plinary body said 232,000 were pun­ished for graft and other rea­sons in 2014, up 30 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year.

But the vast ma­jor­ity were at lower-lev­els of gov­ern­ment.

Tigers to Foxes

Ru­mors of lav­ish life­styles and mas­sive cor­rup­tion of for­mer toplevel politi­cians persist in China.

Strict con­trols on me­dia mean do­mes­tic jour­nal­ists are ef­fec­tively barred from pub­lish­ing in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions into se­nior of­fi­cials.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion last year by the U.S.-based In­ter­na­tional Con­sor- tium of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ists said that rel­a­tives of Xi and for­mer pre­mier Wen Ji­abao used off­shore tax havens to hide their wealth.

In 2012, the New York Times and Bloomberg News pub­lished in­ves­ti­ga­tions into vast riches said to have been amassed by fam­ily mem­bers of Wen and Xi.

China said the New York Times re­port had “ul­te­rior mo­tives.”

Though nearly a year has passed since the party said it was prob­ing Zhou, it has not since an­nounced the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of any fig­ures close to his level.

State me­dia have fo­cused on a “fox hunt,” as the party has la­beled its at­tempts to re­turn to China of­fi­cials who have fled abroad with al­legedly ill-got­ten gains.

But the names of the “foxes” iden­ti­fied con­tain no for­mer high­fliers, and Aus­tralian me­dia re­ported that a lo­cal bus driver ac­cused of low-level bribery was among those tar­geted.

Willy Lam, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst at the Chi­nese Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong, said Zhou’s jail­ing rep­re­sents “a kind of com­pro­mise” with other pow­er­ful fig­ures in the party.

“Xi Jin­ping did not want to alien­ate too many peo­ple,” he said, adding: “His anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign has made him many enemies.”

Zhang Li­fan, an in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor in Bei­jing, told AFP that the slower pace of high-level cor­rup­tion probes “gives peo­ple the feel­ing that up­per ech­e­lons in the party are form­ing a pow­er­ful op­po­si­tion to the cam­paign.”

“We are deal­ing with a cor­rupt sys­tem, so any anti-cor­rup­tion ef­forts will clearly im­pact the in­ter­ests of se­nior of­fi­cials,” he added.

“With re­gards to the ‘tiger hunt,’ they can­not con­tinue of­fend­ing pow­ers within the party.”

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