HUNT­ING A POLIT­BURO TIGER

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

One of China’s most pow­er­ful se­cu­rity lead­ers is fac­ing cor­rup­tion charges, ac­cord­ing to China an­a­lysts in­side and out­side the gov­ern­ment.

The fate of Zhou Yongkang, a for­mer Polit­buro Stand­ing Com­mit­tee mem­ber and un­til re­cently China’s se­cu­rity czar, is be­ing watched closely by U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies con­cerned about the Bei­jing regime’s sta­bil­ity.

Ex­pec­ta­tions are grow­ing that Mr. Zhou will be charged with il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to his fi­nan­cial deal­ings, namely tak­ing bribes. But an­a­lysts say the cor­rup­tion charges would mask much more serous po­lit­i­cal charges, in­clud­ing high crimes such as “fac­tion­al­ism” and at­tempt­ing to engi­neer a takeover within the Com­mu­nist Party lead­er­ship.

In China, the tar­get­ing of such high-level of­fi­cials is dubbed “hunt­ing tigers,” as op­posed to lower-level cor­rup­tion among “flies.”

Be­fore he re­tired in 2012, Mr. Zhou was one of China’s most pow­er­ful lead­ers as part of the nine-mem­ber Stand­ing Com­mit­tee, the col­lec­tive dic­ta­tor­ship that rules China.

The new Stand­ing Com­mit­tee has no se­cu­rity chief. China an­nounced plans to cre­ate a Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil-like struc­ture at the top ranks of the party.

Re­ports of a cor­rup­tion probe of Mr. Zhou have cir­cu­lated among China’s elite for sev­eral months. A clear in­di­ca­tor of the mat­ter’s sen­si­tiv­ity is Bei­jing’s tight­ened cen­sor­ship on the In­ter­net. In re­cent weeks, all searches for Zhou Yongkang have been blocked on ma­jor Chi­nese search en­gines.

The po­lit­i­cal noose tight­ened around Mr. Zhou on Dec. 19. That was when au­thor­i­ties an­nounced that one of his close aides, cur­rent Deputy Min­is­ter of Pub­lic Se­cu­rity Li Dong­sheng, was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for what au­thor­i­ties said were “se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions of party rules and state laws.” Mr. Li is one of China’s most hard-line se­cu­rity chiefs and a lead­ing fig­ure be­hind the na­tion­wide crack­down on do­mes­tic dis­sent.

“Ev­ery­one is wait­ing for the other shoe to drop,” one gov­ern­ment an­a­lyst said of Mr. Zhou’s pos­si­ble ar­rest.

Among the sen­sa­tional re­ports about Mr. Zhou are that he has been placed un­der house ar­rest, and that he took bribes to ar­range the re­lease of a mur­derer fac­ing ex­e­cu­tion.

Oth­ers say Mr. Zhou is sus­pected of or­ches­trat­ing The New York Times re­port pub­lished in Oc­to­ber 2012 that re­vealed large-scale fi­nan­cial abuse by the fam­ily of Wen Ji­abao. Un­der Mr. Wen’s premier­ship, his fam­ily amassed a for­tune worth $2.7 bil­lion. The leak an­gered Chi­nese lead­ers, who have blocked or threat­ened to block visas for re­porters for The Times and other U.S. news out­lets in re­tal­i­a­tion.

The most ex­plo­sive re­ports about Mr. Zhou, how­ever, are po­lit­i­cal. Pub­lished re­ports in China since Novem­ber claimed that Mr. Zhou tried to carry out a coup d’etat against Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. One re­port said investigators are look­ing into whether Mr. Zhou plot­ted two as­sas­si­na­tions, a failed at­tempt against Mr. Xi and a suc­cess­ful hit in 2012 against Lt. Gen. Yuan Zhibo, deputy com­man­der of the Chengdu mil­i­tary re­gion, whose death was an­nounced in May 2012.

The coup ru­mors were bol­stered af­ter Mr. Xi dis­ap­peared from pub­lic view for sev­eral weeks in the fall of 2012. Dur­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance, Mr. Xi skipped a meet­ing with Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, fur­ther fu­el­ing the ru­mors.

Two other “tigers” un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and who may be linked to Mr. Zhou in­clude Li Chingxi, a se­nior of­fi­cial in Sichuan prov­ince, and Yang Gang, deputy di­rec­tor of the Com­mit­tee for Eco­nomic Af­fairs of the Na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence, Bei­jing’s mock par­lia­ment.

Mr. Zhou also has close ties to China’s oil sec­tor, hav­ing served as head of the state-run China Na­tional Petroleum Corp. in the late 1990s and later as min­is­ter of land and nat­u­ral re­sources. An­a­lysts say the cor­rup­tion charges could be re­lated to China’s for­eign oil pur­chases.

Michael Pills­bury, a China an­a­lyst with the Hud­son In­sti­tute, said the Zhou in­ves­ti­ga­tion ap­pears linked to Mr. Xi’s ef­fort to con­sol­i­date power through an anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign.

“Zhou’s ouster would be a ma­jor blow to the no­tion that there are no fac­tions within the Chi­nese lead­er­ship,” Mr. Pills­bury said. “He has been in­volved in two of China’s most im­por­tant sec­tors — en­ergy and se­cu­rity — and his ar­rest would ce­ment Xi Jin­ping’s hold on power.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Gun­men gather in a street as they chant slo­gans against Iraq’s Shi­ite-led gov­ern­ment and de­mand­ing that the Iraqi army not try to en­ter Fal­lu­jah. U.S. in­tel­li­gence an­a­lysts said al Qaeda’s takeover of two Iraqi cities in An­bar prov­ince is an out­growth of a jail­break or­ches­trated last sum­mer by the ter­ror­ist net­work.

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