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China's Anti-Graft Probe Aims High

4 MINS READJun 23, 2016 | 16:35 GMT
China's Anti-Graft Probe Aims High
(WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
China's anti-corruption campaign is now focused more on political enemies than on rooting out corruption.
Summary
China's sweeping anti-corruption campaign is intensifying, and the second round of major investigations this year is expected to begin in the coming weeks. Time until the 2017 Communist Party Congress is growing short, and resources at the country's top anti-graft body, the overburdened Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), are strained. China's top leaders appear to have made a choice to focus the newest round of investigations on ousting supporters of their political enemies rather than on rooting out corruption. Primarily zeroing in on influential figures at the top of powerful organizations, President Xi Jinping and his allies are seeking to clear the decks of rivals ahead of the leadership transition set to take place at next year's congress.

On June 22, CCDI chief Wang Qishan presided over a conference outlining the goals and targets of the new round of inspections, the 10th such round since Xi took power in 2012. Within the next week, CCDI inspection teams will begin scrutinizing targeted organizations, with each inspection likely to last around two months.

Under the microscope will be 32 government bodies, including powerful departments under the Communist Party's Central Committee and government ministries under the State Council. Investigators will also probe four local administrations for a second time — Jiangxi, Henan and Hubei provinces, as well as the municipality of Tianjin. (Chinese provincial governments were among the first targets of the anti-corruption campaign and were all swept at least once by the end of 2014.)

In addition, the new round will investigate the general offices of several key Communist Party and state organizations, such as the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. These offices archive important information and are responsible for numerous day-to-day functions of the Communist Party and state, including arranging meetings and circulating memos.

The most notable aspect of the latest round is its focus on several "Party Leading Groups" — small coteries of the highest-ranking cadres of different organizations, including Party secretaries and their lieutenants. In this round, for example, inspectors will scrutinize the leaders of important committees responsible for the budget and the Hong Kong/Macau Basic Law, as well as leaders in the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Security and Housing and Urban-Rural Development.

The emphasis on Party Leading Groups is important for two reasons. First, it creates a smaller and more manageable target set than if the CCDI were expected to probe the entire Communist Party apparatus in each organization under investigation. Late last year, Beijing announced that it planned to inspect upward of 100 organizations in 2016, a marked increase in tempo deemed necessary to reach its goal of inspecting all 280 bodies under the central government before the 2017 Communist Party Congress. So far, Beijing claims to have investigated more than 180 organizations. Inspectors have reportedly covered all of the provincial administrations, the core central government state-owned enterprises and China's central financial institutions. But the expansion is also stretching the manpower of the CCDI thin; the organization was essentially tasked with performing roughly two-thirds of the inspections it has carried out since 2012 within a single year. Focusing investigations on the Party Leading Groups may significantly decrease the strain on the agency's personnel.

The second reason stems from one of the primary goals of Xi's broader anti-graft campaign: to intimidate and eliminate potential political rivals before the 2017 Communist Party Congress. Since launching the nationwide anti-corruption campaign in 2012, Xi has used anti-graft investigations to steadily root out barriers to his power throughout the government, ousting rivals and potential challengers even at the highest levels of government.

Xi is hoping to eliminate factional elements in the government and ensure that only his allies will be in a position to advance in the next leadership transition — a goal that essentially requires no central government body be spared from the probe. Though corruption exists at all levels of the organizations under investigation, targeting the Party Leading Groups may enable the CCDI to fulfill its ambitious mandate while devoting its scarce resources to removing the power brokers deemed most threatening.

Editor's Note: The following institutions will soon come under investigation by the CCDI. This list was translated from Chinese language sources and is not yet available in English. 

Party Leading Groups under the National People's Congress (NPC)

  • General Office of the National People's Congress Standing Committee
  • Legislative Affairs Committee
  • Budget Committee
  • Hong Kong/Macau Basic Law Committee
  • General Office Research Office

Party Leading Groups under the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)

  • CPPCC General Office
  • CPPCC General Office Research Office
  • Chinese Communist Party Central Committee departments:
  • United Front Work Department
  • International Liaison Department
  • State Commission Office for Public Service Reform
  • State Organs Work Commission
  • Work Committee of the Offices Directly under the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee
  • General Office for the Central Leading Group on Dealing with Heretical Religions

Party Leading Groups under the State Council

  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Ministry of Public Security
  • Ministry of Finance
  • Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development
  • National Audit Office
  • State Administration of Taxation
  • State Administration of Work Safety
  • State Administration of Coal Mine Safety
  • State Intellectual Property Office
  • Counselor's Office of the State Council
  • State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office
  • State Council Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office
  • State Council Legislative Affairs Office
  • Central Institute of Socialism
  • China Earthquake Administration
  • National Council for Social Security Fund
  • Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries
  • China Council for the Promotion of International Trade
  • China People's Institute of Foreign Affairs

Provincial and Municipal Governments

  • Tianjin municipality
  • Jiangxi province
  • Henan province
  • Hubei province

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