It could turn out to be the greatest churning in the Communist Party of China since the Cultural Revolution. By all accounts, Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive is the biggest such campaign that the party has launched since 1949. Although the new Chinese leader began the campaign last year, sceptics in China and abroad doubted how far he would go. The public announcement on the corruption probe against Zhou Yongkang suggests that Mr Xi means business. Until two years ago, Mr Zhou was one of the most powerful men in both the party and the government. He was a member of the party’s all-powerful politburo standing committee and the minister in charge of the country’s internal security. This is the first time in the Chinese party’s history that a former member of the politburo standing committee is facing corruption and other charges. There have been many other heads that have rolled over the past few months. The most remarkable among the fallen include General Xu Caihou, a former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, Jiang Jiemen, a former head of the country’s biggest oil giant, China National Petroleum Corporation, and Liang Ke, former chief of the Beijing bureau of national security. And it all started with the case of Bo Xilai, a former member of the party’s politburo, who was sentenced to life imprisonment on corruption charges.
What prompted Mr Xi to launch the campaign on a scale unprecedented in China? His own answer was that corruption among party and government officials threatened not only the legitimacy of communist rule but also the very survival of the CPC. It is easy to see the fallacy in the argument. Corruption among officials in China is endemic precisely because of the one-party rule. The opaque system makes it possible for the officials to indulge in corruption and all kinds of abuses of power. As such, the party is the problem and a supposed clean-up in the party is hardly the solution. Unless the party-State opens itself up to greater public scrutiny, Mr Xi’s campaign, even if successful, may end up only consolidating his own position in the party. The least that he can do in order to put an anti-corruption system in place is by enacting a law requiring officials to disclose their assets. But Mr Xi has given no indication that he wants to introduce new systems of institutional checks and balances.