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UPDATED: August 27, 2014 NO. 32 AUGUST 7, 2014
To Trap a 'Tiger'
A formal probe of a once-powerful top leader showcases the determination of the Party's anti-corruption drive
By Li Li

(CLOCKWISE) Guo Yongxiang, former Vice Governor of Sichuan Province; Ji Wenlin, former Vice Governor of Hainan Province; Jiang Jiemin, former Minister of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council; Zhou Yongkang, a former standing committee member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee; Li Chuncheng, former Vice Party chief of Sichuan Province; Li Dongsheng, former Vice Minister of Public Security; Li Chongxi, former top political advisor to Sichuan Province

On July 29, the Communist Party of China (CPC) announced an investigation into Zhou Yongkang, the latest high-ranking "tiger" to find himself in the anti-corruption campaign's crosshairs.

The investigation into Zhou—a former standing committee member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee—for suspected "serious disciplinary violations" will be conducted by the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), making him the highest-level figure to be investigated for corruption in the Party's history.

Rise and fall

Zhou was born in 1942 into a farmers' family in Wuxi, east China's Jiangsu Province. His father sold eels he caught in a local creek, and his mother raised silkworms. He graduated from the Chinese University of Petroleum in 1966, which was then known as the Beijing Petroleum Institute, and over the next three decades he climbed the ranks in the largely state-owned oil sector. By 1996 he was the general manager of the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), the country's largest energy company.

Two years later, he made the remarkable transition into mainstream politics, spending a brief stint as head of the Ministry of the Land and Resources before becoming the Party chief of Sichuan Province in 1999. Three years later, in 2002, he was named minister of public security. He served at the position until 2007, when he was promoted to the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, the Party's top decision-making body, and assumed the leadership of the Committee for Political and Legal Affairs. Zhou retired at the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012.

While putting an end to months of speculation and hearsay concerning Zhou, the announcement also clearly terminated the myth some believed about senior leaders being immune from Party discipline regulations and the country's law enforcement.

The current top leadership has resolved to target both high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies" in their anti-corruption effort. After taking the helm of the CPC in November 2012, Xi Jinping has led efforts to fight corruption while calling on the whole Party to remain vigilant. Xi has gone as far as to describe corruption as a threat to the Party's very survival. Xi vowed that there would be "no exceptions:" No leniency will be meted out, no matter who is involved.

The targeting of a member as high-ranking as Zhou will have the added benefit of deterring Party members and corrupt officials. According to the website of the CCDI, around 40 officials at the provincial and ministerial level or higher have been investigated for corruption or other serious disciplinary violations since November 2012.

In June, authorities announced the investigation into Su Rong, then-Vice Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, China's top advisory body, who had previously served as the Party chief in several provinces.

On July 30, People's Daily, the flagship newspaper of the CPC, published a commentary saying that betting on escape and entertaining the illusion that there is some kind of "safe box" would be foolish when it comes to the law and Party discipline.

Zhou's case is another declaration that there should be no power exercised outside that allowed by institutions and there should be no CPC member whose behavior is outside the jurisdiction of the law and discipline, it added.

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