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Tiger Hunt Can Be a Life and Death Business

Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan’s “tiger” hunt (anti-corruption campaign) has entered its fourth year since Xi took the reins of China in late 2012.

Whether or not they had anticipated it at the very beginning, this “tiger” fight has turned into a life and death business.

Xu Ming (徐明), the owner of Shide Group in Dalian City, Liaoning Province, was reported dead in prison on December 4. [1] His body was cremated a few hours later. Xu had been jailed for providing financial support to Bo Xilai who was working on a coup against Xi Jinping in 2012. Some reports said that, after his arrest, Xu provided many details about Bo and possibly other officials. Xu was expected to be released in September 2016. Some analysts found his sudden death and quick cremation to be suspicious.

In July of this year, Man Ming’an (满铭安), the Chief Procurator in the trial of Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai was found to have hung himself in what appeared to be a “suicide.” It was hard to understand why he hanged himself, since he was recognized for successfully delivering Gu’s case and was at a semi-retirement stage. [2] Some Chinese call this “being given suicide.”

Another case was Zhang Jianwei (张健伟), the head of the Party Discipline Inspection Office at China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). Caixin reported that he was found dead in his office on November 3. [3] The cause of his death is being investigated.

These are the deaths of “tiger” hunters and people collaborating with them. More “tigers” have died. According to the state-run news website Guangming, in a span of two weeks early last month, seven government officials and business men died of “unnatural causes,” or suicides. [4]

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long been operating within a black box. Whether these deaths were natural deaths, the revenge of the “tigers,” or preemptive strikes to eradicate witnesses or evidence may never be known.

Even the top leaders are not safe. Reports indicate that, by 2014, Xi had survived six assassination attempts. [5] From 2013 to early 2015, Wang Qishan had survived 12. [6] Hunting “tigers” does not seem to be safe at all: “tigers” have teeth and claws!

Besides assassinations, the “tiger’s” political fight can also be fatal.

Zhou Benshun (周本顺), the former Party Secretary of Hebei Province, is reported to have attempted a political coup against Xi and Wang earlier this year.

Zhou Benshun rose up in the Political and Legal Affairs Committee system and worked under Zhou Yongkang until 2013, when he was appointed as the Party Secretary of Hebei.

Jiang Weiping, former Wenweipo reporter, described this political fight in his blog. [7] According to Jiang, Xi Jinping originally didn’t plan to take down Zhou Benshun. He asked Zhou to improve Hebei’s economic development and track down official corruption in the province.

Instead, Zhou created a top secret report, “The Hebei Political Situation Briefing.” The briefing made five points: “1. The anti-corruption campaign in Hebei wrongfully accused many officials and created a big disaster for the Hebei government. 2. As a result, the Hebei economy deteriorated dramatically; unemployment went up; and social stability declined. 3. Xi and Wang used the anti-corruption campaign to serve their personal political agenda. They attacked their political rivals. 4. Xi created several conflicts between the central government and the local government. 5. Xi blamed the previous top leaders (Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao) for taking the easy achievements and leaving him the hard-to-do tasks; as a result, Xi and Wang created conflicts between themselves and previous leaders and thus caused the Party’s disunity.”

Former CCP head Jiang Zemin and his right hand man Zeng Qinghong liked Zhou’s report very much. They planned to use it to attack Xi at the Beidaihe meeting in the summer of this year. The Beidaihe meeting is a CCP tradition where its current leaders and retired leaders meet once a year to discuss major issues and make key policy and personnel decisions.

Unfortunately for Zhou, Xi also got hold of his report. In July, before the Beidaihe meeting, Xi took Zhou down.

The CCP’s black-box operations may mean this story is just hearsay. One known fact is that Xi’s camp did downplay the importance of the Beidaihe meeting this year.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection’s (CCDI’s) verdict on Zhou Benshun was also in line with this account.

The CCDI’s decision to expel Zhou Benshun from the Party and remove him from government positions stated, “(Cadres) must be absolutely loyal to the Party; must not pretend to agree with the Party on the surface but oppose it in secret; and must not criticize the Party Central’s decisions (妄议中央).”

The new CCP Disciplinary Regulations, published on October 21, 2015, included a new violation item: “妄议中央.” This term refers to officials who make improper comments to, or criticize, the Party Central’s decisions.

There are other examples of this “making improper comments to the Party Central’s decision.” Yu Yuanhui, the former Party Secretary of Nanning City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, encouraged opposition to disciplinary investigations. He said in a lecture to Nanning Party members, “Some Party cadres, when being investigated for disciplinary violations, confessed within a couple of days. They lack the backbone and willpower [to oppose the investigation].” [8]

Putting aside whether criticizing Party Central and top leaders should be a reason for disciplinary action, this shows that the “tigers” are on their feet and their claws are drawn.

Many Chinese think that the “tigers” being hunted are not individual “tigers” but rather all from a “tiger” group: Jiang Zemin’s faction. Jiang and his loyalist Zeng Qinghong have long resisted the anti-corruption campaign and have organized opposition. As was discussed in a previous Chinascope article, it was Jiang who introduced the widespread political use of corruption to maintain his power. “Officials could be corrupt, but exempt from charges of corruption, if they vowed loyalty to Jiang.” [9]

Why did Xi and Wang pick this life and death battle? There may be several reasons: First, eradicating corruption is long overdue work and the Chinese people deserve no less. Second, in order to continue its economic development and possible political reform, China needs a system free of corruption and official abuse of power. Third, to Xi, the “tiger” hunt is a critical move to establish his leadership so that he can implement his China dream. Fourth, Xi may have a strong sense of mission in implementing the China Dream and is committed to carrying it out with no compromise.

[1] VOA Chinese Online, “Xu Ming Suddenly Died in Prison; Was He a Victim of Collusion of Power and Business?” December 8, 2015.
[2] ibid.
[3] Caixin Online, “CNOOC Party Discipline Inspection Head Zhang Jianwei Died Suddenly in His Office,” November 4, 2015.
[4] Fortune, “Apparent Suicides Multiply in China’s Anti-corruption Campaign,” December 3, 2015.
[5] Chinascope, “Hong Kong Magazine: Xi Jinping Has Survived Six Assassination Attempts.”
[6] Chinascope, “Hired Armed Police Officers Attempted to Assassinate Wang Qishan.”
[7] Boxun Blog, “Zhou Benshun Arrested; Another Victory for Xi and Wang.”
[8] Chinascope, People’s Forum: How to Understand “Improper Comments on Party Central’ Decisions.”
[9] Chinascope, “The Legacy of the June 4th Movement – The Legacy of Jiang Zemin.”