Factional Agenda and Political Credibility

China in context newsletter issue 40
June 26, 2017 Updated: June 26, 2017

Two years ago, this newspaper reported on fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui’s unsavory business and political dealings. Guo, we noted, had the patronage of Zeng Qinghong, the former Chinese regime vice-chairman and No. 2 figure in the political faction of former Communist Party boss Jiang Zemin.

The ongoing struggle between the Xi Jinping leadership and the Jiang faction has long taken on the character of a “Harry Potter”-esque, “neither can live while the other survives” deathmatch. (See here and here for background.)

In this context, when the New York-based Guo broke media silence in January and promised to air the Party’s dirty laundry (while making a conspicuous apology on the side), we noted that his fervent articulations were perhaps “calculated political maneuvering” or even an attempt at self-preservation, given the decline of Jiang’s faction.

Guo’s revelations have proven our observation to be accurate. Guo has consistently gunned for Xi’s close ally and anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan, moves that appear to be aimed at splitting the two. Meanwhile, Guo has lauded Jiang and Zeng as “great politicians” and has claimed, without supporting evidence, that Jiang is largely in control of the Chinese regime—strange  commentary from a man who fancies himself a disinterested observer with China’s best interests at heart.

At the same time, Guo is undermining his own credibility. Chinese and Western analysts have noted that while some of Guo’s claims are partially verifiable, many either cannot be verified or are simply false.

Things are also not looking up for Guo’s boss Zeng Qinghong. Top Chinese financiers and known money launderers of the Zeng family have been hauled in by the authorities. And Wang has recently made a public appearance after largely “going missing” for over a month. (In the past, Wang’s lengthy absences have typically foreshadowed a purge of high-ranking officials.)

Yet the longer Guo hogs the limelight, the more troublesome things will become for Xi come the 19th Party Congress, a crucial leadership reshuffle meeting at the end of this year.

Xi is looking to keep Wang as anti-corruption boss for another five years so that Wang can clean up the remnants of the Jiang faction (a job that Wang has thus far been highly effective in executing) while frightening the rest of the cadre corps into some semblance of honesty. Only with a disciplined cadre can Xi push through sweeping economic reforms and even political reforms of the Chinese regime.

Guo’s slanderous mudslinging, however, might be leveraged by opponents of Wang to force Xi to abandon his most trusted political enabler during informal meetings ahead of the 19th Congress, where where key political appointments are hashed out. In this scenario, Xi may lose internal credibility if he sticks by an anti-corruption chief whose international reputation is tainted by accusations of corruption.