'No one is safe': China’s war on corruption sees record purge of senior officials in 2023

The significant increase in investigations in 2023, a 40% rise compared to the previous year, suggests President Xi's unwavering commitment to cleansing China's officialdom, according to a report

FP Staff January 03, 2024 12:07:19 IST
'No one is safe': China’s war on corruption sees record purge of senior officials in 2023

Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China witnessed a surge in its anti-corruption efforts in 2023, as the Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog initiated investigations against 45 senior officials.

This marked a new record in the ongoing battle against corruption, initiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, who had previously declared a “crushing victory” in the anti-corruption campaign five years earlier.

According to a South China Morning Post report, the significant increase in investigations in 2023, a 40% rise compared to the previous year, suggests President Xi’s unwavering commitment to cleansing China’s officialdom.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), China’s foremost anti-corruption agency, had recorded 32 investigations into high-ranking officials in 2022, according to official CCDI announcements.

The majority of individuals subjected to investigation, often referred to as “tigers,” belonged to the category of “centrally managed cadres,” holding positions at the deputy ministerial level or above.

Some, though fewer in number, held slightly lower ranks but occupied pivotal roles in crucial sectors. This surge in anti-corruption activities underscores the continued intensity of President Xi’s push for clean governance and policy implementation.

In contrast to lower-ranking members who fall under the jurisdiction and supervision of local party branches and disciplinary agencies, senior officials are directly overseen by the Communist Party’s Central Organisation Department—the highest-ranking body for personnel matters. If any misconduct is detected among them, they would be subjected to investigations conducted at the highest level by the CCDI.

Research reveals that out of the 45 senior cadres detained by the disciplinary watchdog, 27 had already retired from their positions during the investigation.

Deng Yuwen, a former deputy editor at the Study Times, the official newspaper of the Central Party School responsible for cadre training, suggested that the focus of CCDI investigations on retired officials indicates that the probes unveiled more misconduct predating Xi’s leadership. Moreover, retiring from their positions does not exempt these individuals from further scrutiny.

“Among the officials arrested in recent years, not many were caught for corruption in their current positions. Most of the problems occurred in the past few years, or even more than 10, 20 years ago. The CCDI is no longer following the previous unspoken rule that retired officials will be spared from investigation,” South China Morning Post quoted Deng as saying

“Now, no one is safe. As Xi digs deeper, he just finds more problems that accumulated over the past three decades due to rapid economic development and lax party discipline. And there is no sign of him stopping the digging,” Deng added.

Over the course of the 11 years since the initiation of the anti-corruption campaign, the CCDI has removed a total of 294 senior officials, as reported by the South China Morning Post.

It’s worth noting that this count excludes numerous corruption investigations within the Chinese military, which independently conducts probes through its Discipline Inspection Commission. Operating under the utmost secrecy within China’s top military command, the Central Military Commission (CMC), overseen by Xi Jinping, this agency handles its investigations discreetly.

Cases related to the Chinese military are selectively announced by Beijing, as demonstrated in instances such as the investigations into former CMC deputy chairmen Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong during Xi’s initial presidential term. These cases marked the highest-ranking officers in the People’s Liberation Army targeted since the commencement of the anti-corruption campaign.

Prior to 2023, the highest number of senior officials investigated in a single year by the CCDI was in 2014, with 38 individuals under scrutiny. In 2020, 18 officials came under investigation, but the annual tally has been on the rise since then: 25 high-ranking officials in 2021 and 32 in 2022.

Recently, the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body, announced the dismissal of nine generals on Saturday. Among them were five officers who had served as either past or current top commanders in the PLA Rocket Force, a crucial component of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

Notably, individuals like Li Yuchao, who led the rocket force until July, and his former deputy, Zhang Zhenzhong, were included. Although there has been no official confirmation from Beijing regarding corruption investigations involving these nine individuals, reports suggest that some may have been under scrutiny earlier in the preceding year.

A political researcher at Peking University said there were many obvious signs that suggest that China’s “tiger hunt” will expand even further in 2024.

“We have the removal of [former foreign minister] Qin Gang and [former defence minister] Li Shangfu. We also saw the National People’s Congress just officially dismiss nine PLA generals, indicating a sweeping investigation in the military has got preliminary results,” South China Morning Post quoted the researcher as saying, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

No reasons have been provided for the dismissals of Qin and Li, who were both stripped of their positions last year.

“I suspect only a tiny amount of information regarding these cases will be released to the public, just for minimal formalities.”

The CCDI will begin its third plenum from next Monday to lay out the work priorities in the new year for tens of millions of discipline inspectors across the country.

With inputs from agencies

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