Upon becoming general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2012, President Xi Jinping put forward a frank assessment that endemic corruption among party elites and cadres threatens to delegitimize the reform process and undermine the CPC’s rule. Xi announced a broad anti-corruption campaign and vowed that the party’s graft watchdog would be“striking tigers and flies at the same time” — a signal that both prominent officials and grassroots cadres would be equally held accountable.
In the two years since the anti-corruption campaign began, it has proven to be the longest reaching and most impactful clampdown effort since the reform era began in 1978. Anti-graft inspectors have launched thousands of investigations, ending the political careers of hundreds of officials engaged in bribery, embezzlement and acquiring illicit funds through land deals, official infrastructure projects and land development. The scope of the anti-corruption efforts has not spared those in the CPC’s inner circle, creating anxiety within the party.
Zhou Yongkang, one of China’s most powerful men until his retirement in 2012, has been the most prominent official probed for abuses of power. During his tenure as the head of the CPC’s political and legislative affairs committee, Zhou’s only superiors were the president and prime minister. He was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) and oversaw the state’s internal security, judicial system, law enforcement, and paramilitary operations, operating with a larger budget than China’s military.
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) — the party’s formidable anti-corruption agency — has also detained reputable officials known to be Zhou’s protÃ©gÃ©s and opened investigations into the extraordinary wealth of his family members. It is widely believed that the long delays in announcing the probe against Zhou were due to huge inner-party resistance, indicating that Xi engaged enormous political capital in order to create conditions for the investigation.