China floats dangerously over troubled waters of South China Sea
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Issue Courtesy: | Date : 09 Jun , 2015

Some watchers have predicted a ‘crack’, others a ‘collapse’, all might be wrong, but the fact remains that the Middle Kingdom has entered troubled waters, not only in the South China Sea.

Chinese-language Radio Free Asia (RFA) recently reported about a meeting between three foreign scholars and Wang Qishan, the all-powerful head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the organisation responsible for chasing the ‘tigers’ and the ‘flies’ and enforcing the Communist Party of China’s rule and discipline over the country.

Guess what? The ‘scholars’ were Japanese, a nation not always on best terms with the Chinese leadership.

The meeting took place in Zhongnanhai, the Party’s secluded headquarters, on April 23. The Japanese scholars were Stanford University academics: renowned political scientist Francis Fukuyama, economist Masahiko Aoki, and former CITIC Securities’ head, Tatsuhito Tokuchi.

According to RFA: “Wang was talking most of the time”, but later, Tatsuhito Tokuchi, Wang’s long-time friend, posted the speech of the CCDI’s boss on the Internet.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) said that the detailed report appeared on a website affiliated with the Tsinghua University’s Centre for Industrial Development and Environmental Governance. It was penned by Tokuchi, a member of the centre’s council.

RFA affirmed that “a key message that Wang passed on in this meeting was that his anticorruption campaign faces severe difficulties.”

It is difficult to comprehend why Wang needed to pass this sort of serious message through the Japanese academics. It probably means that all is not well in Wang’s current anti-corruption campaign, which started soon after Xi assumed power in November 2012.

Wang would have explained his dilemma to the Japanese:

“If I stop, the public will be disappointed and the result may be social turmoil. If I proceed, some cliques will fight back and even fight to the death.”

It is worrying for China’s stability if the anti-corruption campaign has reached such a stalemate. RFA commented:

“Another key message was that Wang promised his opponents that he will not seek a complete systematic reform that will fundamentally prevent corruption.”

It means that corruption is so deeply engrained in Chinese society that it is practically impossible to fully eradicate.

Nobody doubts that corrupt officials in China badly resent Wang’s campaign and are waiting to strike back.

RFA rightly commented:

“It is rare for a politburo standing committee member to have a discussion with visiting foreign scholars. Wang’s high-profile meeting with them and the posting of his talk through an official channel is a big taboo for high-ranking Party officials.”

It also means that today Wang can do what other officials have never done, i.e. speak to ‘foreigners’, knowing that his words will be immediately reported in China as well as abroad. With Xi, he still remains the most powerful man in the Kingdom, but for how long?

The situation is indeed serious. The social media has regularly reported Communist officials committing suicide. In May, Chen Tianhong, the head of a town in Jiangsu province, jumped to his death from the 21st floor of the government building. It was the third suicide of a Communist cadre officially reported by Chinese media in a month.

In March, four officials jumped to their deaths on three consecutive days.

The SCMP earlier wrote:

“The number of suicides recorded by officials has risen sharply in recent years, which analysts said was inevitably linked to Xi’s anti-graft campaign. More than 100 ‘tigers’ – corrupt senior officials – and many low-level cadres ‘flies’ have been purged.”

On May 29, China Military Online announced that the military authorities released a list of two more PLA generals who had been investigated: Maj. Gen. Fuyi, former commander of the Zhejiang Provincial Military Command and Maj. Gen. Zhou Minggui, vice director of the political department of the PLA Nanjing Military Region. This brought the tally to 35 officers of the rank of major general and above, investigated since the beginning of the year. One can easily imagine the resentment, the fear, the bitterness and the suspicion (against those who have managed to slip through the CCDI’s net), created by Wang’s campaign.

The SCMP affirmed:

“Since the PLA changed track earlier this year and started releasing updates on the graft crackdown in the military, five of the army’s seven area commands have lost their logistics chiefs to corruption investigations. The exceptions are Nanjing and Jinan.”

But the ‘purification’ process (or the purge in Marxist terms) is not only going on full swing in the PLA, all fields are ‘affected’.

According to the latest statistics, from November 2012 to April 2015, 124 top officials (alias ‘tigers’) in state-owned enterprises have been ‘investigated’ for corruption; State-run energy companies are said to account for a quarter of all fallen state-owned enterprise (SOE) executives.

China News Service reported that executives working in the mainland’s infrastructure sector were the second largest group to be probed by the top corruption watchdog CCDI.

Wang Tianpu, the second-highest ranked official of China’s largest oil refiner has recently been detained and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and China National Offshore Oil Corporation have both lost their president or vice-president in the battle.

In the midst of this all-out internal war, Wang Qishan ruled out any chance of an independent judiciary.

In his encounter with the Japanese scholars, he admitted that the Communist Party was struggling, it was not easy: ‘it is like a doctor operating on himself’.

According to Tatsuhito Tokuchi, Wang mentioned the rare case of a Russian surgeon removing his own appendix to illustrate the difficulty of ‘self-renewal’ and ‘self-purification’: “We realise that it is only a beginning … and we need to keep going,” commented Wang.

Zhuang Deshui, an anti-corruption expert at Peking University told the SCMP:

“The authorities might have thought in the beginning that hitting ‘tigers and flies’ would have some deterrent effect. But as the number of corruption cases and the ranks of purged officials kept growing, certain interest groups and senior officials – maybe even including those more senior than Zhou – were also involved.”

In its May issue, Trend Magazine, based in Hong Kong, discussed the colloquial term ‘Iron Hat King’:

“The CCP likes to play political games by using argot to criticise someone without disclosing his name.”

The Chinese media said that there is no ‘Iron Hat King’ in the anticorruption campaign. It means that there is no king who will forever enjoy their royal immunity; in other words, even former top officials can be subjected to corruption charges. The article suggested that former President Jiang Zemin is the ‘Iron Hat King’. His court (or clique) comprises of Zeng Qinghong (the ‘Qing Prince’), a former Politburo’s Standing Committee member, Bo Xilai, the ‘crown prince’, Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, the Central Military Commission’s members and Zhou Yongkang, the former Security czar, today in jail.

It would mean that the CCDI is coming close to Jiang, the former President. That would explain why it is not easy for Wang and Xi.

The democratic tradition in India, though sometimes chaotic, brings far more stability to the nation. When an ‘Iron Hat King’ or even a Party is too corrupt, he is just removed by the masses at the time of the next elections. It is what happened to the Indian Dynasty last year.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Claude Arpi

Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

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