China’s Communist Party fired a vice chairman of the economic planning agency who is suspected of “severe disciplinary violations,” after a Chinese journalist posted allegations that he had improper business dealings.
Liu Tienan, 58, who was also head of China’s National Energy Administration until March, lost his post at the National Reform and Development Commission, the official Xinhua News Agency reported in a one-sentence release, citing the party’s Organization Department.
State-run media cited an investigation into Liu as evidence that the Communist Party is becoming more responsive to corruption claims circulated online. While President Xi Jinping warned in November that a failure to contain graft could lead the party to lose power, he has given no indications of political restructuring.
“This is a case where the central government tries to signal its seriousness of anti-corruption and encouragement of real-name reporting of corruption,” said Jiangnan Zhu, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong. Liu is not as powerful or connected as former Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai who was dismissed in March last year, making the case less sensitive to discuss openly, she said.
His case came to public attention after Luo Changping, deputy managing editor of Caijing Magazine, made allegations against him in microblog posts in December, saying he exaggerated his academic credentials and that his son received payments in U.S. and Canadian dollars into bank accounts from a business executive. The Communist Party’s disciplinary body announced via Xinhua on May 12 that Liu was the subject of an official probe.
After Luo first leveled his accusations, the press office of the National Energy Administration told the Beijing News newspaper it was “pure slander,” according to the paper.
Luo couldn’t be reached on his mobile phone when called today. He said on his Weibo microblog account on May 13 that he had spent one year confirming and cross-checking his information. He received “important” information via telephone in the beginning from Liu’s mistress in Japan, he told the China Business News in an interview on May 12.
The investigation into Liu “is a fresh sign of the new leadership’s zero tolerance toward corruption and its vow to hold violators accountable no matter who they are,” the state-run China Daily newspaper said in an editorial. It said Liu is the first minister-level official to be investigated based on corruption claims circulated online.
Even as the official media highlight the crackdown, the government has arrested people calling for public disclosure of officials’ assets. Four people were arrested in Beijing on March 31 after they displayed banners in public with slogans advocating asset disclosure, New York-based Human Rights Watch reported.
Xi should tackle the corruption through proper legal procedures and not via a political campaign reminiscent of movements undertaken by Mao Zedong, said Huang Jing, a professor at the National University of Singapore who focuses on Chinese politics.
“The worry is not whether and to what extent it will be done, it is how it will be done,” Huang said in an e-mail.
Liu was one of 11 vice chairmen at the NDRC, the successor to the country’s Soviet-era planning agency that oversees everything from highway projects to bond sales. No one was available at the NDRC to comment when contacted by telephone today.
Top officials falling from grace for corruption also occurred under Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. Under Hu’s watch, two members of the party’s ruling Politburo were dismissed amid corruption probes, as was the railway minister and the former head of China’s second-biggest oil company.
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