Chinese authorities are stepping up a crackdown on corruption, including confiscating the passports of some local leaders, in moves that underscore President Xi Jinping’s determination to root out graft.
Vice Minister of Public Security Li Dongsheng became the second member of the Communist Party’s central committee to be probed this year for suspected corruption. The capital of southern Guangdong province told 2,014 village chiefs to hand in their passports to prevent corrupt local officials from fleeing abroad, the Guangzhou Daily reported.
Targeting those Xi has described as both “tigers and flies” -- cadres at the top and bottom of the power ladder -- may help bolster the party’s image as economic expansion slows and public discontent over corruption increases. The agency in charge of investigating graft last month started a second round of inspections into bribery and influence-peddling that includes six provinces and two ministries.
“When these people are punished, it brings enormous support for Xi Jinping’s leadership,” said Ding Xueliang, a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who teaches Chinese politics. “Xi wants to use power to achieve things -- he is the kind of individual who is trying to change the pattern of Chinese politics.”
China’s new Communist Party leadership, headed by Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, took office in November 2012 in a once-a-decade power transition. In a speech to the Politburo after taking over as party general secretary, Xi told his fellow leaders that unless they address corruption, social unrest may rise and lead to the demise of the party.
Corruption was third among the public’s top 10 concerns in 2013, up from seventh in 2012, according to a survey by the website of the state-run People’s Daily carried out every March before the National People’s Congress.
Local party leaders are rarely held responsible for failing to tackle corruption, the People’s Daily said today, citing Li Xueqin, head of the research department for the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. “This situation must change,” Li said, according to the People’s Daily.
Since Xi became party chief, at least 15 ministerial-level officials have been probed for corruption, according to a Dec. 21 report in the China Daily newspaper. Among the 205 members of the party’s central committee that was chosen when Xi took office, two are under investigation: Li Dongsheng and Jiang Jiemin, the former head of the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration commission who was removed in September.
Li is being investigated on suspicion of “serious violations of discipline and laws,” language that signals a corruption probe. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection announced the probe Dec. 20.
High-level officials to face punishment for corruption include Bo Xilai, former party secretary of Chongqing, who was ousted in 2012. Bo, mentioned as a possible candidate for the Politburo Standing Committee in the run-up to last year’s power transition, was sentenced to life in prison in September for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.
Before his downfall, Bo had support from Zhou Yongkang, who was head of the nation’s security apparatus and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee under Hu. Zhou, who retired in November last year, is under investigation for graft, the New York Times reported on Dec. 16, citing people with political connections to senior officials.
Li Dongsheng and Jiang Jiemin are the latest officials with ties to Zhou to be probed. Others 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 dominoes have been falling in slow motion from Sichuan to Beijing as people who were subordinates of Mr. Zhou or who he promoted have been targeted,” said Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. “This was a very powerful network of colleagues and friends and while it’s very much focused on anti-corruption, there’s obviously a political dimension.”
At the same time, Xi’s campaign against graft has extended from executives at state-owned companies to provincial governors and village officials.
Guangzhou, the capital of southern Guangdong province that borders Hong Kong, last week told the heads of villages under its jurisdiction to hand over their passports and obtain approval for overseas travel, the Guangzhou Daily and Nanfang Daily said on Dec. 21, citing the city’s anti-corruption agency.
The policy, which already applies nationwide to officials at municipal level and above, was issued after investigators found that a village party secretary suspected of land corruption obtained Australian citizenship and fled China, they said.
Mei Heqing, spokesman for the agency, said a quarter of the city’s corruption cases involve village chiefs, the Nanfang Daily reported.
The provincial discipline inspection commission said last week that a former deputy mayor of the city, Cao Jianliao, now party secretary of Zengcheng city in Guangdong, was put under investigation for suspected “severe discipline violations.”
More than 18,000 corrupt Chinese officials fled the country since the mid-1990s with about 800 billion yuan ($132 billion) in embezzled funds, China National Radio reported in June 2011, citing a report from the central bank.
The most popular destinations for fugitives include the U.S., Canada, Australia and Singapore, the Xinhua News Agency said in an Oct. 22 report.