On Wednesday Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign claimed its first ‘tiger’ in Beijing – the city’s deputy Party chief Lü Xiwen. The day before, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection announced it was also investigating Shanghai’s deputy mayor Ai Baojun for “serious disciplinary violations”– a term that has become the Party’s code for corruption.
For the local media the two detentions filled an important gap on China’s anti-graft map. Every single one of the mainland’s 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions now has a senior official, or ‘tiger,’ under investigation.
“This shows China’s anti-corruption campaign has no restricted areas. It has achieved full coverage,” the People’s Daily said.
A cynic might say that it underlines how graft is so commonplace that not a single province is untouched. Naturally, the state media picked out the positives. “The fall of the Beijing and Shanghai tigers shows the Party’s determination to root out corruption. No city, no industry and no person is safe. As long as there are problems, they will be investigated,” Xinhua warned.
The People’s Daily produced a handy infographic on all the ‘tigers’ to be nabbed over the last three years and where they were caught. It said that 59 provincial and ministerial-level officials had been accused of corruption, with Shanxi producing the largest number, seven.
Most of the accused are between 50 and 60 years-old, it said, and Lü Xiwen was just one of the two women caught in the net (which probably says more about the gender mix in the Party’s elite rather than which of the sexes is more prone to corruption).
Lü, who is 60, worked in the capital since graduating from university. Before becoming deputy secretary of the municipal Party committee, she governed the Xicheng district for seven years and spent another seven as head of the Party’s organisation department – the body in charge of personnel arrangements.
As well as serving as deputy Party secretary in Beijing she was also dean of the city’s Party school.
Ai was in a similarly powerful position in Shanghai, where he oversaw the creation of the new Free Trade Zone and the plans for the city’s Disneyland theme park, which is due to open next year.
As with Lü, the details of the charges against Ai are unknown but the financial magazine Caijing has reported that Ai’s wife, who died a week ago from kidney failure, was being investigated for stock market manipulation over the summer.
Ai’s deputy Dai Haibo was also arrested in March this year.
While senior government detentions were grabbing the headlines on Thursday morning, the corporate sector has also been targeted again. This month also saw the launch of investigations into Dongfeng Motor’s group general manager Zhu Fushou and airline China Southern’s chairman Si Xianmin.
The big question is whether this is the last gasp of a campaign designed to deter more junior levels of officialdom from the corrupt path or a sign of a semi-permanent state of affairs that will continue through to the 19th Party Congress in 2017, when a personnel reshuffle will allow Xi to assemble a new top-level team.
The Financial Times said the graft arrests might be increasing as a result of “intense factional fighting” in which different political groups are striving to “cement positions ahead of the next political cycle”.
The New York Times also cited experts as saying that Xi was “moving quickly to consolidate power and promote allies”.
“The tragedy of the authoritarian regime is that you have leaders in place, but you don’t have your own team in place. You need to spend your entire term to make room for your supporters so you can carry out your policies,” Fu Hualing, a professor at the University of Hong Kong told the newspaper.
But some Chinese academics have suggested that the current campaign is unsustainable because it has created paralysis in government and commercial decisionmaking. They believe that Xi – who completes his third year as head of the Party on Sunday – will start to wind it down quietly.
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