Changing the guard

With Wang Qishan stepping down, Zhao Leji takes over as anti-graft chief


Wang: set for diplomat role?

The role of China’s vice president is generally awarded to a senior figure in the Communist Party. An exception was Rong Yiren, who served as the deputy head of state from 1993 to 1998 despite a more junior background in the formal hierarchy. Rong’s connections to Deng Xiaoping were crucial, however, and he was heavily involved in cultivating China’s new relationship with the West and bringing in much-needed foreign investment.

China’s former anti-graft tsar Wang Qishan may take on a similar role as the Chinese vice president early next year, according to speculation in the Hong Kong press.

Wang’s public appearances have added weight to the suggestion. In the last two months he has turned up for some high-profile meetings, spending time with visiting politicians including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Steve Bannon, former adviser to American leader Donald Trump.

Wang retired last month from the key positions he has held since 2012, including his role in the powerful Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). When he took over at the anti-graft agency in late 2012, WiC suggested that Xi Jinping had picked the best candidate to oversee the war against corruption (see WiC176). And Wang has certainly not disappointed. According to the watchdog’s most recent work report, it has disciplined more than 1.3 million Party officials over the past five years. At least 280 or so were senior officials with roles in the central government, including heavyweight catches such as Zhou Yongkang, a former Standing Committee member of the Politburo, and Bo Xilai, the former Party boss of Chongqing.

In a (rare) poll of public opinion, the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that 92.9% of people said they were satisfied with the anti-corruption drive last year, which was 18 percentage points higher than in 2012.

Wang will be replaced by Zhao Leji who, at 60, is the youngest member of Beijing’s seven-man leadership. Zhao has strong ties to Shaanxi and he was appointed as its Party boss in 2007. Shaanxi is Xi’s ancestral province too, and according to Hong Kong newspapers, it was during Zhao’s tenure as provincial boss that the local government began work on a huge theme park in Fuping, where the president’s father was born and buried. Now open for business, the enormous park features a 60-tonne granite statue of the elder Xi.

In 2012 when Xi took over as Party leader, Zhao was promoted to head the powerful Organisation Department, which runs the Party’s staffing. The position (which Zhao will hold alongside his new CCDI role) had required him to work in tandem with Wang. “Whenever Wang Qishan makes a move, Zhao Leji gets busy,” the People’s Daily reported back in 2014.

A new ‘super regulator’ called the National Supervision Commission (NSC) will come into force next year, with oversight that extends deeper into the public sector, including government employees, judges and police officers. The new agency will broaden Zhao’s influence and he promises that he will be resolute in his new role.

“If our control of the Party is not strong and Party governance is not strict, then the Party won’t be able to avoid being erased by history and the historic task the Party carries will not be able to be fulfilled,” he warned in an editorial in the People’s Daily last week.

In the meantime, Wang’s anti-graft legacy is already being assessed. Tony Kwok, a former deputy commissioner at Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption awarded him “hero” status, comparing him with Jack Cater, who uprooted entrenched corruption in the former British colony in the 1970s. “When people look back on the Chinese mainland’s successful battle against corruption, they will similarly remember Wang Qishan,” Kwok wrote in the China Daily this week.

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