For the past four years, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has been steadily maneuvering into an advantageous position to deal with his predecessor Jiang Zemin and end the culture of corruption that Jiang fostered in China.
In the wake of Xi’s ascendancy as paramount leader and the passing of strict regulations governing the lives of elite Party cadres at a recently concluded political conclave, the 6th Plenum, the checkmating of Jiang seems to loom ever nearer.
Xi has recently made his ultimate goal more transparent by hinting at the presence of fractious cadres in the Party’s upper echelons. Meanwhile, the anti-corruption agency headed by his ally Wang Qishan is starting to probe the regime’s security apparatus and key judicial organs, possibly in preparation to bring in Jiang Zemin by the law—a view expressed recently by a retired Chinese official with links to moderate voices in the Party elite.
Xi Jinping’s effort to remove Jiang Zemin and his powerful political faction is not so much a typical Communist Party power struggle than an undertaking of personal, and even national, survival.
Jiang’s nearly two decades at the apex of the Chinese regime—ten years as Party leader, and about ten years as a godfather-like figure—is marked by brutal suppression and rampant corruption.
Jiang came to power in 1989, after showing that he was a hardliner during the pro-democracy protests in Beijing and Shanghai, which concluded in a bloody massacre. Once in office, he allowed a system of nepotism and crony capitalism to flourish, greatly enriching himself and his allies at the expense of the country. Jiang would later seek to stay highly influential past his official retirement to avoid being held accountable for personally leading the persecution of Falun Gong, a peaceful meditation practice, in 1999.
To encourage reluctant officials to arrest, torture, and “eradicate” Falun Gong practitioners, Jiang promised the willing promotion and riches. Many Chinese officials, already accustomed to taking bribes and buying office during Jiang’s reign, became active perpetrators.
Jiang’s allies in the state-run enterprises and state media, like former security czar Zhou Yongkang and Li Dongsheng, moved into the government to play leading roles in the persecution. Both headed up a Gestapo-like, extralegal agency charged with persecuting Falun Gong, and Zhou Yongkang led a security apparatus that gained a budget of over $120 billion, larger than that of the military.
Under Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, however, many of Jiang’s allies have gradually been rounded up and found guilty of abusing their office, taking sometimes hundreds millions of yuan in bribes; unofficial estimates in overseas Chinese language media puts the figures in the billions of yuan collectively, though even this may be a gross underestimate.
In speeches last year, Xi hinted that the political crimes of Jiang’s top associates like the former Politburo member Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang, and ex-military vice chairs Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, were more severe than their immense personal greed. Jiang’s men, Xi intimated, were guilty of trying to “wreck and split” the Party—code for an attempted coup.
Xi repeated his condemnation at a meeting on Nov. 2: “An extremely small number of high-level cadres have inflated political ambitions … formed cliques and cabals … seek power and position, and other political conspiracies,” he said, according to a statement carried by state mouthpiece Xinhua.
Presently, only five elite Party cadres fit Xi’s description: Politburo Standing Committee members and Jiang’s allies Zhang Dejiang, Zhang Gaoli, and Liu Yunshan; Jiang’s political enabler and former vice chairman Zeng Qinghong; and Jiang Zemin himself.
Advancing the Pieces
Wang Qishan, the head of the anti-corruption agency, appears to be presently laying the groundwork to rope in the remaining key elements of the Jiang faction.
First, consolidation and preparation.
In October, the chief internal Party inspectors of six provinces and four Party organs were reshuffled—a move intended to keep the inspectors honest by separating them from their associates and possible factional networks, according to political commentator Li Tianxiao.
Then on Nov. 2, 69 internal investigators attached to the public security apparatus were made to undergo “training classes,” a move that preempts an impending purge. The anti-corruption agency had issued a criticism of the public security apparatus last month, and suggested that its top leadership lacked “political sensitivity”; Public Security minister Guo Shengkun appears to be a Jiang acolyte that was roped into the government from a state company, like the purged security czar Zhou Yongkang.
Also on Nov. 2, the anti-corruption agency announced that it was investigating 27 Party organs and departments, including the Central Party School, state broadcaster China Central Television, and several state-run media outlets, as well as the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.
The inspection of the Party’s top training school for its cadre corps and Party media outlets puts Liu Yunshan, the Central Party School president and propaganda chief, on notice. This June, the propaganda apparatus also received harsh feedback from the anti-corruption agency.
Notice that the top two legal organs of the Party will be probed will pique the interest of the over 200,000 Chinese citizens and Falun Gong practitioners who filed criminal complaints against Jiang Zemin for crimes against humanity. The wave of complaints followed a legal reform last May that required the courts to accept and acknowledge all such legal documentation.
How Will It End?
The huge stack of legal complaints from Chinese citizens that Jiang stripped legal rights from and persecuted could eventually become the official reason for his prosecution, in the opinion of Xin Ziling, a former defense official.
“When the problem of Jiang Zemin is to be solved in the future, it won’t be through the personal power of ‘core’ leader Xi Jinping, but by the authority of the constitution and the law,” Xin told international radio broadcaster Sound of Hope in a Nov. 1 interview. He also suggested that a “special court” could be set up to prosecute Jiang given the magnitude of his crimes, which includes the forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners.
Xin says that Jiang will likely be made to go on trial before the Party’s 19th National Congress, a moment of important leadership transition, because Jiang cannot be allowed to “interfere in anyway with the political future of the country.”