BEIJING — China announced Tuesday that its powerful former security czar is under investigation, confirming the hushed whispers that have been circulating over the last year.
Zhou Yongkang is the most senior Chinese figure to be swept into the net of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.
Until 2012, when Mr. Xi took power, Mr. Zhou was on the Politburo Standing Committee, the most elite ruling body in China. What makes the case so dramatic is that, since the late 1970s, standing committee members have enjoyed an unwritten immunity, adopted at the end of the Cultural Revolution to prevent the Communist Party elite from destroying one another in power struggles.
The official New China News Agency did not describe the charges but merely announced in a terse statement that Mr. Zhou was under investigation for a suspected “serious disciplinary violation,” generally code for corruption. At this stage, the investigation remains with the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
The square-jawed Mr. Zhou, 71, was the personification of the national security apparatus, making him until recently one of the most feared men in China. Until his retirement, Mr. Zhou oversaw the police, domestic intelligence, courts and paramilitary forces, commanding a budget larger than the People’s Liberation Army. He led the oil giant China National Petroleum Corp. in the 1990s and had planted many of his proteges in key positions.
China watchers are debating whether Mr. Zhou’s prosecution is merely an old-style purge of political enemies or a sincere reform effort on Mr. Xi’s part. Some suggest that Mr. Zhou’s cronies were so entrenched in state-owned enterprises that they were preventing Mr. Xi from carrying out sweeping reforms to rebalance the economy away from exports and toward consumer spending.
In the internal wrangling leading up to Mr. Xi’s 2012 ascension to the helm of the Communist Party, Mr. Zhou was thought to be in the losing camp. A protege of former President Jiang Zemin, Mr. Zhou reportedly tried to protect Mr. Xi’s rival, Bo Xilai, who was convicted last year in a salacious corruption trial.
Within an hour of the announcement, the party’s People’s Daily weighed in with an apparently prewritten, congratulatory editorial. “No matter how powerful you are or how high of a position you held, as long as you have broken the regulations of the party and the law of the nation, you’ll be dealt with in accordance with the law,” the newspaper said.
Wu Si, a prominent editor at the liberal magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu, weighed in by saying it brought China “a step closer to modern civilization.”
Mr. Xi has made an anti-corruption campaign the theme of his administration, promising to bring down “tigers” as well as “flies” — big fish and small. Last year, 182,000 party officials were punished, according to a report to state media by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
For all the hype about fighting corruption, Mr. Xi’s government has blocked efforts to enact laws requiring party officials to disclose their assets. Investigative stories in the Chinese press about corruption are quickly scrubbed from the Internet unless they are parroting official reports. “It’s mainly still a political power struggle under the flag of an anti-corruption campaign,” Zhang Lifan, a party historian, said in an interview this month.East Asia - Asia - China - Greater China - China government - Xi Jinping - Jiang Zemin - Bo Xilai