Known as “Mayor Bulldozer” for the massive infrastructure projects he built while running the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, Ji Jianye traveled to Beijing last year to represent his province in the national legislature. He won’t be at this year’s gathering which starts today.
Ji, 57, is one of at least 11 delegates to the National People’s Congress to resign or be expelled from the Communist Party after being put under investigation for bribery and other wrongdoing since Xi Jinping became president a year ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The list includes an executive at a state telecommunications giant, a trade union boss, and a regional boss at an energy company formerly headed by Zhou Yongkang, the former public security czar who is said by state media to be involved in a corruption probe.
Their absence from the Great Hall of the People is evidence of Xi’s efforts to swat both “tigers” and “flies,” a reference to high-level officials and lower-level technocrats. For the almost 3,000 NPC members who meet in the capital, it is a reminder of the party’s dueling priorities of maintaining economic growth of 7.5 percent while limiting social unrest caused by disquiet over corruption and environmental damage. Xi made an anti-graft drive a cornerstone of his first year as president after he identified official bribery as a threat to the existence of the party.
“The list of delegates sacked is longer than in past years but not perhaps of sufficient magnitude to send shivers through the spines of the NPC,” said Andrew Wedeman, a political science professor at Georgia State University who studies corruption in China. “The signs that Zhou Yongkang is going down are increasingly strong and a move to publicly take him out would create major political shock waves.”
Some people have used membership of the congress for personal gain, NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying said yesterday. A scandal in which 512 delegates to the local People’s Congress of Hengyang city in central Hunan province resigned after being found to have taken bribes to vote for candidates for the provincial legislature was the “most serious” in NPC history, she said.
Spending on official overseas visits, vehicles and hospitality was reduced by 35 percent, Premier Li Keqiang told the opening session of the legislature today. The government will build a system to combat corruption and “penalize offenders without mercy,” Li said.
The annual political gathering brings together businessmen and officials for about two weeks of discussion on the direction of economic and other policies. NPC delegates are chosen in their home provinces from lower-level people’s congresses and serve five-year terms.
Ninety members of the body last year were on the list of China’s 1,000 richest people published by the Shanghai-based Hurun Report. At that meeting, newly-installed Premier Li Keqiang called corruption “incompatible with the nature of the government like fire is to water.”
Since then the party’s crackdown has netted targets in the military, state security and state-owned enterprises. The total number of cases opened against officials in China by party disciplinary agencies rose 11 percent last year from 2012, and included 31 high-ranking or high-profile officials, according to a Jan. 11 report by the official Xinhua News Agency.
The cases of the 11 disgraced NPC officials identified by Bloomberg were among a list published on the website of the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection or in state media. They included Chen Anzhong, the chairman of the Jiangxi Federation of Trade Unions, and Xu Long, the general manager of China Mobile’s Guangdong operations. Both are under investigation for “severe discipline violations,” a term commonly used to cover a variety of offenses.
Nanjing’s “Mayor Bulldozer” is the former party secretary of ex-President Jiang Zemin’s hometown Yangzhou in central Jiangsu Province. Ji sparked public protests in 2011 after ordering sycamore trees to be cut down or moved to make way for a subway project. He was “morally corrupt,” according to a Jan. 30 statement from the discipline commission. Efforts by Bloomberg News to contact the three former officials by calling their last place of work were unsuccessful.
Another ousted NPC member, Li Dongsheng, is the former general manager of a China National Petroleum Corp. branch in Sichuan, a company tied by state-owned and foreign media to a probe into former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou. Li, who recently resigned from the NPC, according to a Feb. 27 Xinhua report, couldn’t be reached for comment.
It’s too early to tell if the campaign is changing public perceptions of corruption in the party as it has clear limits, according to Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of politics at Hong Kong Baptist University.
“It’s hard to deny there’s quite a number of tigers,” Cabestan said. “As far as corruption, there’s a political agenda behind it.”
At least 7 out of 20 high-profile corruption cases since the 18th Party Congress installed Xi as party leader in Nov. 2012 are related to Zhou, according to Wang Yuhua, an assistant professor in political science at the University of Pennsylvania.
The downfall of Zhou would boost Xi’s anti-corruption credibility with the public, Wang said. “However, this is more consistent with a purge. It is clearly a targeted crackdown on a particular faction within the party.”
Zhou was a supporter and ally of former Chongqing Party secretary and NPC delegate Bo Xilai, who was fired after he gave a defiant speech at the meetings of the legislature in 2012. Bo was sentenced to life in prison in September on charges of corruption.
“I can see a scenario where they pick all of Zhou’s allies off and break the back of whatever power he still has within the party and that’s the end of it,” said Wedeman. “Whether they want to go on and achieve an anti-corruption goal might open doors to other people that I really can’t imagine Xi Jinping wants to go through.”