Son of Former Chinese Leader Jiang Zemin Said to Be Under House Arrest
Son of Former Chinese Leader Jiang Zemin Said to Be Under House Arrest

News Analysis

Jiang Mianheng, the elder son of former Chinese Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin, is presently under house arrest, according to a source close to the Party disciplinary inspection branch in Shanghai.

The source told the Chinese language edition of Epoch Times that Jiang is being held under house arrest in a secret location on the outskirts of Shanghai. He is only allowed outside the residence for fresh air, the source said; the source said he had personally seen Jiang at the location, using an “observation device” to confirm a tip-off.

The detention of Jiang Mianheng by the Party’s anti-corruption investigators is the culmination of probes conducted over about the last 18 months into prominent companies and institutions that Jiang is associated with. The development also points to the possibility that Party leader Xi Jinping’s intends to bring the anti-corruption drive to its endgame, with the arrest and punishment of the senior Jiang, whose effective control over the communist regime extended until 2012.

The Shanghai disciplinary inspectors want from Jiang Mianheng a complete account of his personal and family financial affairs, the source, who is close to the investigators, told Epoch Times. Based on what inspectors currently know about the Jiang family’s property, assets, and wealth secured through illegitimate and obscure means, the source said, “it’s enough to feed and water the Chinese people for several years; the figure is eye-popping!”

“Over the years, countless state enterprises and foreign investors have to give this family valuable presents that are each worth hundreds of millions [of yuan] at least,” the source added.

The ‘Telecommunications King’ and Academician

The Jiang family would have gotten a chance to get immensely wealthy when China was ruled by Jiang Zemin.

Former President Jiang Zemin attend the closing session of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on Nov. 14, 2012, in Beijing, China. Names of Jiang was absent from a mourning list of dozens of high level leaders and retired officials, hinting a fading power of Jiang. (Feng Li/Getty Images)
Former Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin attends the closing session of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on Nov. 14, 2012, in Beijing, China. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

As Party leader, Jiang entrenched a political system where regime officials leveraged political power for monetary gain and other benefits. This system reared became particularly acute after Party paramount Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy in the early 1990s to stamp out democratic yearnings from the Chinese people in the aftermath of the June 4 pro-democracy protests and military massacre on Tiananmen Square.

The children of top Party officials soon found themselves controlling and enriching themselves from massive state-owned enterprises. And as the state-run telecommunications industry rapidly expanded, Jiang appeared to hand his son a generous slice of the lucrative pie.

As is customary, moves begin with the offsprings, the sons.
— Xin Ziling, Retired Chinese defense official

Within two years of returning from doctoral studies in the United States in 1992, Jiang Mianheng took over Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd. (SAIL), the investment arm of the Shanghai municipal government. Jiang Mianheng remains the chairman and chief executive officer of SAIL, according to a company profile on Bloomberg current of June 2016.

Jiang Mianheng was only able to control the prominent but secretive SAIL in September 1994 with no managerial experience or financial know-how “mainly due to his princeling background,” surmised Hong Kong-based scholar Wing-Chung Ho in a 2013 paper. The term “princeling” refers to the children of revolutionary Party cadres; Jiang Zemin stakes a claim to this powerful heritage because he claims to be the foster son of Jiang Shangqing, an uncle who died fighting the Japanese during the Second World War.

Through SAIL, the younger Jiang was able to invest billions in the building up of Shanghai’s telecommunications infrastructure, and later owned shares and reversed the fortunes of China Netcom. The struggling state-run telecommunications company was transformed into the third largest telecommunications firm in China merely three years after Jiang oversaw its operations. While he held no formal role at the time, China Netcom CEO Edward Tian let slip to researcher Bo Zhiyue that Jiang Mianheng was “the actual head of the company,” according to a 2007 book.

The confluence between politics and power also appeared to have helped Jiang the “Telecommunications King,” as overseas Chinese media dubbed him, survive potentially damaging revelations of his massive corruption in leaked U.S. State Department cables in 2007. A year later, China Netcom merged into China Unicom, and with Jiang continuing on as a backroom operator.

While he was busy running a telecommunications empire, Jiang Mianheng somehow managed to get himself appointed to top positions in China’s most prestigious scientific research institute despite having hardly any academic achievements.

From 1999 to 2011, Jiang held one of the vice president positions in the China Academy of Sciences. In 2005, Jiang became president of the academy’s Shanghai branch, but resigned in 2015 “due to age reasons”—a curious development because Jiang was some years away from the official retirement age.

This early retirement was a tell-kele sign that the Jiang clan was coming under political pressure.

Prescient Whispers

Jiang’s present predicament has been foreshadowed by information from a reliable source to this newspaper, and persistent rumors in the overseas Chinese language media.

In March, Zheng Enchong, a renowned Shanghai-based rights defense lawyer who was placed under house arrest for his constant skirmishing with Jiang Zemin’s cronies in the city, told Epoch Times that Jiang and his sons, Jiang Mianheng and Jiang Miankang, have had their freedoms restricted.

Zheng Enchong, a Shanghai-based human rights lawyer. (Epoch Times)
Zheng Enchong, a Shanghai-based human rights lawyer. (Epoch Times)

Zheng said his tip comes from “extremely reliable” sources, and held up the reduced restrictions on his own person, and the very fact that he is allowed to pass on sensitive information about the Jiang family freely, as supporting evidence that the word he received is accurate.  

Speaking to international radio station Sound of Hope in May, Xin Ziling, a feisty former top defense bureaucrat with connections to top Party cadres who are politically moderate, said that the Xi Jinping leadership has completed corruption investigations into the sons of Jiang Zemin, as well as the son of Zeng Qinghong, Jiang’s right-hand man and former regime vice chair.

Hong Kong Chinese-language media have long speculated that Jiang Mianheng is being targeted for a takedown, but none provide details as specific as that in a report in the June edition of Chengming Magazine.

Chengming, a political magazine known for at times issuing accurate reports on elite political developments in Beijing, wrote that the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection summoned Jiang Mianheng for a formal chat on May 14. Discipline inspectors requested that Jiang declare his personal and family assets, and whether he owns any businesses—news that corroborates with the information that this newspaper recently obtained about Jiang’s house arrest.

Working Up

Jiang Mianheng’s detention, however, wouldn’t come as surprising to those who have been closely tracking Party leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

Purges since the campaign started in early 2013 have closely followed a pattern: Discipline inspectors first target lower ranking officials before announcing the investigation of their political patrons in the coming weeks or months. Then, depending on the status or influence of the elite cadre in custody, further arrests, forced transfers, or mandatory retirements are enforced to rid a Party organ or state-owned company of the cadre’s influence.

Previously, the question was whether or not Xi Jinping would make a move against Jiang Zemin; increasingly, it seems to be a question of when.

The case of former security czar Zhou Yongkang is one example. As early as 2013, Zhou’s cronies in his former workplaces—state oil, Sichuan Province, and the state security apparatus—were hauled away by Party discipline police. Zhou was formally investigated a year later, and handed a life prison term in July 2015.

Former security czar Zhou Yongkang in a courtroom at the First Intermediate People's Court of Tianjin in Tianjin, China, on June 11, 2015. (AP)
Former security czar Zhou Yongkang in a courtroom at the First Intermediate People’s Court of Tianjin in Tianjin, China, on June 11, 2015. (AP)

Party disciplinary agents appear to have been working their way up towards Jiang Mianheng since late 2014.

Among the first to be investigated were two top executives at China Unicom, general managers Zhang Zhijiang and Zong Xinhua. In February 2015, disciplinary inspectors released a scathing report on China Unicom, noting that its employees engaged in bribe taking and traded sex for favors. By the year’s end, Chang Xiaobing, the former chair of China Unicom, was purged.

The Shanghai branch of the Party’s internal disciplinary agency opened investigations into the Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd., Jiang Mianheng’s piggy bank, in November 2015.

Academicians close to Jiang Mianheng were likewise targeted. In October 2015, Shi Er’wei, a deputy director at the China Academy of Sciences who often appeared in public together with Jiang for Academy events, was suddenly removed from office. State media offered no explanation for this move.

Also marked for takedown were Jiang Mianheng’s allies in Party organs. Perhaps the most prominent of these individuals is Ma Xiaodong, the former deputy chief of the science and information technology bureau in March 2015.

Ma is known to have been instrumental in developing the “Golden Shield Project,” an advanced surveillance system that targets dissidents and practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline that has been subjected to a statewide persecution campaign on the orders of Jiang Zemin. Jiang and his son Jiang Mianheng were also involved in “Golden Shield,” according to Chinese activist writer Wang Yuanfei.

The Big One

If the purge of Zhou Yongkang, the former security czar whose arrest was once thought impossible, then following the the model of Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive, having Jiang Mianheng in custody is likely a stepping stone towards the arrest of his father.

“As is customary, moves begin with the offsprings, the sons,” said Xin Ziling the former defense official.

Xin Ziling in an undated photograph. (Weibo.com)
Xin Ziling. (Weibo.com)

Xi’s motivation for ousting Jiang Zemin and his political network is survival. According to Party insiders, in 2012, Wang Lijun, the former police chief of Chongqing in southwest China, revealed a plot by Jiang’s allies—Bo Xilai the Politburo member and Chongqing boss, and Zhou Yongkang the security czar—to supplant Xi after he takes office. Xi has alluded obliquely at this coup attempt when speaking about Party “conspirators” and “wreckers and splitters” in recent speeches.

Because Chinese politics is highly personal, Xi’s campaign can only reach a logical conclusion with the arrest of Jiang. According to Xin Ziling, so long as Jiang Zemin doesn’t fall, the “the Jiang clique will always have hope and faith.”

Xi appears to have grasped this point, and seems to have already put Jiang on notice since the third quarter of 2015.

On Aug. 10, Party mouthpiece People’s Daily published an editorial cautioning retired Party leaders against interfering in the present leadership. A fortnight later, a large stone stele bearing Jiang’s inscription that was displayed prominently on the lawn of the Party’s main cadre training school was removed.

And in a book of speeches released this January, Xi accused some Party leaders of becoming a “Taishang Huang,” or power behind the throne, seemingly a pointed reference to Jiang’s godfather-like influence.

Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping (L)  walks past former Party head Jiang Zemin (R) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 14, 2012. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping (L) walks past former Party head Jiang Zemin (R) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 14, 2012. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)

There are also signs that the senior Jiang’s movements have been restricted.

Jiang isn’t on the guest list of the recent funerals of noteworthy Party cadres, a highly symbolic absence since the attendance or nonattendance of public events has long been used as a gauge of political standing.

In May, the Hong Kong political magazine The Trend reported that 1,500 top Party officials and their families, including Jiang Zemin and many of his allies, are banned from traveling abroad. These officials are also required to surrender their passports to the Party disciplinary agency, and report all property and financial assets.

Previously, the question was whether or not Xi Jinping would make a move against Jiang Zemin; increasingly, it seems to be a question of when.

Reporting by Yue Hua. 

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