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【#259】Power Struggle Alone Cannot Explain China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign

Satoshi Tomisaka / 2014.08.11 (Mon)

August 11, 2014

     On July 26, China announced the indictment of Zhou Yongkang (whose original name is Zhou Yuangen) who had served as member of the Communist Party of China Politburo Standing Committee and secretary of the CPC Central Political and Legislative Committee that controls information, law enforcement and security divisions. Zhou had reportedly come under scrutiny of the party last December. The long delay of the indictment announcement had been taken as indicating Chinese President and CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping’s hesitation in his anti-corruption campaign. But the eventual indictment emphasized Xi’s implementation of his vow to crack down on both “tigers” and “flies.” Xi is now awesome for CPC members throughout China.

Zhou Yongkang indictment carried over from previous leadership
     What is the objective of the anti-corruption campaign? Most of Japanese media attempt to explain the campaign from the viewpoint of power struggle.
     Most of the media view Xi as waging power struggle with a faction led by former Chinese President and CPC General Secretary Jiang Zemin or Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao. Among those who see Xi's struggle with the Jang faction, some believe that Xi's final target is Jiang behind Zhou. Others speculate that Xi has cut a deal with Jiang to expel Zhou. The indictment has also been depicted as Xi's struggle to obtain oil interests from Zhou who moved to the central government from China National Petroleum Corporation. All these views may be understandable for Japanese people who are familiar with factional politics.
     But these views deviate from realities.
     The first problem is how to position Xi. After Xi was effectively picked as successor to Hu in 2007, media in the world believed that Xi, as well as former CPC Politburo member Bo Xilai, was positioned as a member of the Princelings or Crown Prince Party, a group of children of previous prominent CPC leaders. They thus described Xi as waging power struggle with the Hu faction representing the Communist Youth League of China. In fact, however, Bo's confrontation with the CPC leadership including Xi was shaking the party then. Finding some contradiction regarding their view, media described Xi as a member of the Jiang faction for the reason that Xi had served as CPC secretary in Shanghai, Jiang’s stronghold.
     The Zhou problem is a spillover from the expulsion of his ally Bo Xilai. Two years ago, U.S. media reported the accumulation of wealth by the families of then Premier Wen Jiabao and Xi, meaning that Jiang and Xi simultaneously came under attack. Xi took over the Zhou problem from the previous leadership. Thus the problem does not represent only Xi's struggle.
CPC's sense of crisis behind anti-corruption campaign?
     If the anti-corruption campaign is explained only as power struggle, Xi's attempt may be trivialized.
     China said inspection teams sent by the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection toured 31 provinces, directly controlled municipalities and autonomous regions in 10 months, punishing as many as 521 CPC members and bureaucrats, including two deputy premier-class and 37 minister-level officials. State-run corporations subject to the anti-corruption campaign have covered not only the oil sector but also steel, telecommunications and electricity industries. Can such campaign be explained only as Xi's power struggle with Jiang?
     Behind the present anti-corruption campaign may be a sense of crisis that corruptions, if left to spread further, would lead the CPC to lose popularity among the people. Since the Mao Zedong age, CPC, though continuing political struggle, has never stopped wondering how it would be seen by the people.
Satoshi Tomisaka is Planning Committee Member, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Professor at the Takushoku University Institute of World Studies.