In the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) latest sacking of a top official accused of serious corruption, the wording of the admonishments was so severe that the Party called it “rare and unusual.”
After the CCP ’s anti-corruption watchdog agency announced on Feb. 13 that the head of the Cyberspace Affairs Administration, Lu Wei, has been stripped of his post and his Party membership, an online publication affiliated with People’s Daily, the CCP’s mouthpiece newspaper, called the agency’s descriptions of his crimes “most ruthless” and “unusually severe, clearly showing that his problems are serious.”
From 2013 to 2016, Lu was the internet czar who oversaw strict surveillance and censorship of the Chinese internet. He was also known for maintaining a high profile, unusual for Chinese bureaucrats. For example, he established the annual World Internet Conference in China, an attempt at grandstanding in front of tech executives despite China’s reputation for having one of the most restrictive internet environments.
The agency, known as the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), called out Lu for a plethora of misdeeds, including “outwardly agreeing with, but secretly opposing authority,” “anonymously framing people,” “forming cliques and factions,” “nasty behavior,” “having inflated sense of ambition,” and “using any means possible to boost himself.”
The relentless criticism suggests Lu had committed something very wrong in the eyes of the Party leadership.
Though the CCDI did not elaborate, there are some clues as to what misdeeds Lu may have been ensnared for. China affairs analyst Chen Simin offered some analysis culled from past news reports and accounts that have surfaced online.
One incident that may have gotten Lu into trouble: In March 2016, during the highly sensitive time of the “lianghui” annual political meetings in Beijing, a news website affiliated with the Xinjiang authorities called Watching Media published an open letter calling for CCP leader Xi Jinping to step down. The website was soon shut down. Local authorities launched an investigation, with dozens of staff questioned or detained.
But the seditious letter’s appearance was dangerous enough. Chen predicts that since Lu was the official responsible for patrolling the web, he may be getting punished for the offense. Some observers have suggested that Lu may have orchestrated the incident himself.
The CCDI’s harsh words may also serve as a warning for those officials involved with the incident who haven’t been punished yet. “Those listeners may also share some responsibility,” Chen wrote.
As for the accusations of “forming cliques and factions”—hinting at the possibility that Lu aligned with an opposition faction—Chen pointed to previous reports of Lu’s connections with Ling Jihua, a former top political advisor and known member of the “Jiang faction,” those officials still loyal to former CCP dictator Jiang Zemin.
Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has targeted many Jiang faction members who have threatened Xi’s control over the Party.
In December 2014, several Chinese web portals published an article detailing how Ling Jihua’s brother, Ling Wancheng, secretly amassed wealth using his position as general manager of an ad agency belonging to Xinhua News Agency, the CCP’s mouthpiece. During the same time period, Lu was in charge of business operations at Xinhua. Chen suggests that Lu could have been involved in Ling’s misconduct.
Ling Jihua is a former top political advisor with ties to the Jiang political network.
Lu’s political connections may be what cost him his post. Lu had spent most of his career working in the CCP’s propaganda agencies under Liu Yunshan, the former propaganda chief who is also a key associate in the Jiang faction.
Li Jing and Xu Meng’er contributed to this report.