Beijing: Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members and government officials are running for cover as President Xi Jinping has launched a fresh round of purges, marking a major shake-up in the country.
Over two dozen police and judicial officials were investigated, with dozens more removed from their posts in August as part of his ongoing anti-corruption campaign.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, a senior ally to Xi’s called for the purge in July, saying it was time to ‘turn the blade of a knife inwards, cure the poison by scrapping it from the bones’ that must cleanse the country’s justice system of corrupt elements and purge officials who only paid lip service to the CCP. Millions of party cadres are potentially at risk of being targetted.
A “Yan’an Rectification Movement” style purge of party cadres was first announced by Chen Yixin on July 8 during a meeting of the Central Political and Legal Commission, a powerful policy-making body directly under the Communist Party’s Central Committee.
Thousands of Chinese Communists were purged during Yan’an Rectification campaign carried out in 1942. The ones that could stay in the party were forced to ‘unify their thinking’ and toe the official line of Mao Zedong, the father of modern China. If they deviated from the official line, their fate was expulsion, torture and even death.
Last month, Wang Xiaohong, a close aide to Xi and the most Senior Vice Minister for Public Security, published a signed article about political discipline in the police force’s official newspaper. Wang specifically warned that “two-faced people,” those who officially pretend to obey but secretly resist will be thoroughly removed.
Wang’s article has been shared widely by Xi’s rival factions, including by members of the Communist Youth League. It is as if the Youth League is sending a coded message to its members: “A purge is coming. Everyone, be careful.” In fact, there has already been a significant development noticed in that direction.
In mid-August, it was announced that Gong Daoan, Shanghai’s Vice Mayor and top public security official, had been placed under investigation for serious disciplinary and law violations but no accusations favours being granted or charges of money changing hands. Gong is the third deputy ministerial-level public security official to fall from grace this year.
While proponents of the purges say they are based on the anti-corruption campaign, opponents say China’s leader is targeting political rivals to keep them from taking power away from him.
Xi has made sweeping political crackdowns a key feature of his rule, eliminating his main political rivals. Ever since he became CCP General Secretary in 2012, he has overseen a massive anti-corruption drive with more than one million officials either disciplined or removed from their position. During Xi’s first five years in office, 1.34 million officials were brought down over corruption, according to official data.
Xi does not have to fight an election. In 2018, he abolished term limits, effectively allowing him to remain President for life. However, he does need to continue to run campaigns to stay in power and avoid a potential challenge for his leadership particularly in the wake of the mishandling of Wuhan virus outbreak, ravaging economy and rising tensions with the United States and India. This means purging anyone who could pose a serious threat to that power.
In 2013, shortly after becoming China’s President, Xi kicked off a political study campaign called “mass line educational practice activities” within the party, which led to the fierce “anti-corruption” campaign. During that process, there were calls for banning luxury and attaching importance to frugality.
Xi is again calling on the Chinese people to attach importance to saving money, even when they order at restaurants. Is he aiming to repeat the success of his past political campaigns? A similar atmosphere is taking shape across the country.
Before the party’s last National Congress, in 2017, senior military officers were arrested for corruption one after another; some ended up killing themselves. The campaign ensnared an influential politician who had been widely seen as the front-runner to one day succeed Xi as China’s top leader.
The new rectification campaign that started last month will continue till the time for the 20th Party Congress of the CCP to be held in 2022. If the party follows precedent, Xi would step down and be replaced by somebody else.
So this seemingly legal and judicial campaign is likely to be partly about his consolidating his own position in the party, even if Xi has already secured a tenure-for-life for the presidency when restrictions on the number of terms were removed during a session of the National People’s Congress in 2018.