China Premier Li Vows to Seek Out Corrupt Officials of Any Rank

China’s premier Li Keqiang vowed to extend the fight against corrupt officials, no matter how senior they are, following a report in state media that former security chief Zhou Yongkang is tied to a graft investigation.

Rent-seeking behavior and graft has “nowhere to hide,” Li told a press briefing today to mark the end of China’s annual legislative meeting in Beijing. The party is determined to tackle corruption throughout its ranks, he said.

“No matter who he is and how senior his position is, if he violates party discipline and the law of the country, he will be severely dealt with and punished to the full extent of the law,” Li said. The premier didn’t refer directly to the case of Zhou, the former head of the party’s security apparatus, who has been named in the state-run Global Times as linked to a graft investigation that has netted some of his former colleagues and business associates.

A corruption probe into Zhou would be the first of a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, sending the signal that even the political elite isn’t immune from a campaign to root out the corruption that President Xi Jinping has said threatens the Communist Party’s six-decade hold on power. Party leaders have promised to target both “tigers and flies,” or cadres up and down the power ladder, over graft.

List of Powers

China will release to the public a list of official powers to establish boundaries and prevent abuse, including those relating to land and mining rights transfers, Li said at the press conference attended by foreign and Chinese journalists. There will be institutional checks on public spending, he said.

The press conference with the premier at the end of each National People’s Congress meeting is a closely scripted affair. Chinese authorities decide in advance who to call on and reporters must submit questions beforehand for approval.

Zhou, a member of the standing committee until November 2012, was an ally of Bo Xilai before the latter was ousted on corruption charges. Zhou, who oversaw the internal security forces whose budget under his watch surpassed that of the military, publicly voiced support for Bo’s policies days before Bo was removed from his post in March 2012.

Bo, a former Chongqing municipal party secretary who was mentioned as a possible candidate for the standing committee, was sentenced to life in prison in September on charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

Bo Xilai

Li’s remarks on corruption didn’t seem to be directed at Zhou, according to Bo Zhiyue, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore who specializes in China’s elite politics.

“I don’t think there’s anything specific in the comment” he said. “They won’t use this opportunity as Wen Jiabao did in 2012 with Bo Xilai.”

Any announcement about Zhou would come through the party’s disciplinary committee headed by Wang Qishan, Bo said.

State media in recent weeks linked Zhou to a corruption probe, with the government-controlled Global Times reporting March 4 that people close to Zhou were allegedly involved in graft. The Global Times also summarized a report from March 3 in the Beijing News about a probe into Zhou’s family.

Chinese investigators have questioned more than a dozen senior officials as part of a probe of Zhou, Reuters reported in January, citing three people with ties to the leadership. Zhou was put under virtual house arrest in the city of Tianjin, it reported.

Coverage of Zhou increased after Lu Xinhua, a spokesman for China’s top government advisory body, was asked at a March 2 press conference about media reports regarding the former security chief. Lu, spokesman for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, responded by saying that anyone violating laws and party disciplinary rules would be punished no matter what position he holds.

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