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Isaac Stone Fish

Zhou Yongkang Countdown: Expanding the Purge?

zhou_0_0Chinese, just like in English, there are many gradients of unprecedented. Potianhuang, which literally means to “break the scarcity of heaven,” is one of the strongest.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is in the midst of what is probably the biggest anti-corruption campaign since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. He is almost certainly going after China’s former security czar Zhou Yongkang — the first time an official who served in the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), China’s top ruling body, has been targeted. Xi is also fighting graft in the military. The case against Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan, who was quietly dismissed from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China’s military, in 2012, may turn into the biggest corruption scandal in PLA history — it is extremely rare for the ruling Chinese Communist Party to publically accuse top Chinese military figures of corruption.

Amidst the unprecedented crackdown, rumors of a new target has begun to float around the Internet: He Guoqiang, formerly China’s top anti-corruption official, who served with Zhou on the PSC from 2007 to 2012. The rumors appear to have started with a corruption probe of Song Lin, the former head of one of China’s most powerful state-owned enterprise, China Resources. “By investigating Song Lin it looks like the leadership has decided to go after He Guoqiang,” Hong Kong based anti-corruption activist Li Jianjun told the Financial Times. Song, the FT reported, citing people familiar with the matter and Chinese media reports from outside of China, is “closely associated” with He’s son. Duowei, a New York based Chinese-language news site with a decent record of anticipating Chinese political scandals, claimed in an April 23 story that He’s absence means he may be in trouble.

It’s important to emphasize allegations of He’s involvement are still at the level of rumor. Like almost all retired Chinese officials, He has kept a low profile — he has not made a public appearance since 2012 –and his absence from the spotlight doesn’t mean he is being investigated. His name could drop from the discussion. But if Xi is really trying to make the case that no one, not even former members of the PSC, are above scrutiny, maybe he thinks breaking just one precedent is not enough.

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Isaac Stone Fish

Isaac Stone Fish is associate editor at Foreign Policy. Previously a Beijing correspondent for Newsweek, he wrote stories on such subjects as the Dalai Lama’s effect on international trade, China’s love affair with rogue states, and crystal meth in North Korea. His articles have also appeared in the International Herald Tribune, the Economist, and the Los Angeles Times.
  • Zen my Ass

    I’d not want to say this is all Smokes and Mirrors, but it’s by working on the symptoms that you will heal a system that doesn’t work…

  • framily

    How is some 3-star general getting sacked bigger than Mao sacking Peng Dehuai himself in 1959? I guess you can frame it as the biggest “anti-corruption” measure, but in the end, the intent is neuter someone’s power. The method in which it is done is relatively meaningless.