China’s corruption crackdown leads to Zhou’s arrest

China’s corruption crackdown leads to Zhou’s arrest

In his fight against corruption, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to target both “tigers and flies.” But his next target appears to be a tiger, as Zhou Yongkang, one of the most powerful men in China’s modern history, has come under criminal investigation.

In China’s latest corruption scandal, ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang has been put under formal investigation, accused of “serious disciplinary violations.” This makes him the highest-ranking official ever to be investigated.

These actions were not sudden, as Zhou has not been seen in public since October. It also appears that his former aides, family members and other friends have been detained and questioned in separate incidents spread out over the past few months, building suspicion that his arrest has been prepared for a long time.

Not only was Zhou the head of China’s Public Security Bureau (PSB), but he was also a member of the Politburo Standing Committee. His position at the PSB meant that he has been involved in the expansion of prison camps, and had even more funding than the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to expand the police force.

Throughout his career, Zhou also had close connections to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and he purportedly took part in the persecution of Falun Gong members. There were even rumours of Bo Xilai and Zhou trying to oust Xi Jinping, making him a direct threat to Xi Jinping’s rule and a vital player in China’s internal and external politics.

These positions come with a serious amount of power and responsibility. However, for Zhou these privileges have abruptly come to an end. The only other time when criminal charges of this scale were aimed at a Chinese political figure was in 1980-1981, when the Gang of Four were tried for their role in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

Responses to the investigation have been immediate. Even his alma mater, the China University of Petroleum, has quickly moved to erase any evidence of his ever attending the university. The university has also made an official announcement to support the Communist Party in its decision to investigate Zhou.

As always in scandals like this, estimations of Zhou’s personal and family wealth have emerged soon after these accusations. Calculations of his family wealth have reached 1 billion yuan, or $160 million, wealth which is spread out into oil (China National Petroleum Corp), real estate, liquor (premium baijiu, the Chinese rice wine which plays a major role in business and political functions’ dinners), energy, and even the movie sector.

What does this mean for China’s future?

For China’s internal political struggle, it seems that Xi has won the battle within the party, but there are fears of a potential backlash by other retired party leaders who are now also fearful for their future. This is especially the case for those who were loyal to Zhou, or have gained their positions of power alongside him in the same sectors. Also, the message is very clear: do not oppose Xi Jinping.

Most importantly, Xi is sending a message that China’s economic and political environment is changing. China is fighting corruption in certain areas and moving toward a more economically liberal environment. Although corruption in the political arena is still rife, interventions like this will put more value on transparency, and shed light on sheer amounts of wealth held by the party’s leaders for the whole world to see.

On top of that, if there is anything that Zhou represented, it is state owned enterprises, as visible in the earlier cited Caixin diagram. This is all in line with the China 2030 report that the World Bank and the Development Research Center of China’s State Council put out together earlier this year, in which it became clear that China has to tackle its ownership issues in order to create a less hostile business environment and reduce the amount of non-performing loans.

Categories: Asia Pacific, Politics

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