China’s anti-corruption watchdog has begun an investigation of Vice Minister of Public Security Li Dongsheng, making him one of the highest-level officials to be targeted in a widening campaign against graft.
Li is suspected of “serious violations of discipline and laws,” the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said yesterday, using language that signals a corruption probe. A member of the Central Committee, the Communist Party’s 205 top officials, he has held the security post since 2011.
The investigation is the latest in a campaign against graft that started after Xi Jinping became head of the party a year ago with a warning that corruption poses a grave threat to its survival. Xi’s drive has focused on people with links to Zhou Yongkang, the former head of the nation’s security apparatus who was a supporter of Bo Xilai, the ousted Politburo member jailed in September. Zhou is under investigation for graft, the New York Times reported on Dec. 16, citing people with political ties to senior officials.
“This is not about corruption, it’s about cleaning up and putting the party’s house in order after the power struggle that took place before the leadership transition in 2012,” said Ding Xueliang, a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who teaches Chinese politics. “Xi is deeply worried about the huge power system Zhou Yongkang built up and he is trying to bring back stability and discipline at the top levels of the party.”
Xi is sending a message to officials who aspire to the top leadership in the next 10 to 20 years, said Ding, who previously worked as a researcher at the Institute of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought in Beijing. “You must follow the rules of the game we set down and you are not going to break the rules without being punished,” Ding said.
Li joined the Ministry of Public Security in 2009, according to reports in China’s state media, two years after Zhou left his job as public security minister to take one of nine spots on the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s highest ruling body, with oversight of the country’s security apparatus.
Zhou, who retired in 2012, was an ally of Bo, the former Chongqing municipal party secretary, who was mentioned as a possible candidate for the standing committee in the run-up to the party’s once-a-decade power transition last year. Bo was sentenced to life in prison on charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power.
Li was appointed vice minister in March 2011, according to a report on the website of the state-run People’s Daily newspaper that month. His name has been removed from the ministry’s website, which today lists eight vice ministers.
Li is 58, according to a report in today’s Shanghai Daily. He spent 22 years working at state-run China Central Television, where he rose to deputy head of the station, it said. He moved to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and became vice head of the party’s propaganda department in 2002, the newspaper said.
“Li Dongsheng had zero work experience within the public security system before he went to the ministry,” Ding said. “All his educational and work and personal background were related to propaganda, especially television, so his promotion to such a senior position was extraordinary.”
Li’s move to the public security ministry came while Zhou was head of the party’s Central Politics and Law Commission, which oversees all law enforcement authorities, including the police, and is currently headed by Meng Jianzhu.
Allegations against Zhou emerged from investigations over the past year into accusations of abuse of power and graft by officials and oil company executives associated with him, the New York Times reported on Dec. 16. His wife, Jia Xiaoye, previously worked at CCTV, according to state media reports.
Zhou’s last public appearance was at an alumni celebration at the China University of Petroleum in October.
Officials with ties to Zhou and who are being probed include Li Chuncheng, a deputy party secretary in Sichuan province, who served as deputy party secretary for the provincial capital Chengdu during Zhou’s tenure in the province’s top position. The Xinhua News Agency reported his investigation in December last year.
The Ministry of Supervision said in May that Liu Tienan, then vice chairman of the country’s top economic planning agency, was under investigation and Jiang Jiemin was removed as director of the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission in September on suspicion of discipline violations.
Jiang, a former CNPC and PetroChina Co. chairman, and Zhou were top executives who served together at an oilfield in eastern China in 1989-1990, according to their official biographies. Zhou was general manager of CNPC in the 1990s.
“This was an empire of power and influence within the political system and it became a potential threat to the center of power,” Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said by phone. “By cleaning out some of these people, it helps to purge the influence of Mr Zhou. It also allows Xi to establish the kind of leverage over power that he can use to promote his reform agenda.”
To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Nerys Avery in Beijing at firstname.lastname@example.org