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August 7, 2020


CHINA: New anti-corruption purge reflects political maneuvering

BY Gabriel Wildau

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  • The Communist Party’s new “rectification” campaign is the latest incarnation of President Xi Jinping’s signature anti-corruption initiative and is focused on police corruption.
  • Like earlier anti-corruption purges, the rectification campaign appears to combine a genuine effort to combat abuses of power with elements of a political and ideological purge.
  • The campaign is led by a Xi loyalist and sets the stage for the Party Congress in late 2022, where Xi may break precedent by seeking a third term as general secretary.

The Chinese Communist Party has launched a Maoist-style “rectification and education campaign” targeting law enforcement officials who fail to uphold the party’s directives or collude with criminals. Led by a close ally of Xi, the campaign is a tool for party elites to enforce ideological discipline and political loyalty ahead of a senior leadership transition in late 2022.

The rectification campaign is the latest evolution of Xi’s signature anti-corruption campaign, which originally ran from 2013 to 2017 and ensnared tens of thousands of officials, including several from the party’s most senior ranks. As with the earlier anti-corruption campaign, the rectification campaign appears to combine a genuine effort to deal with corruption in law enforcement with elements of a political and ideological purge.

Enforcement campaigns are frequently seen in the run-up to a Party Congress, which meets every five years to select new top leaders. The rectification campaign is beginning with a three-month pilot program in five cities and four counties and will expand nationwide in 2021, before concluding in early 2022. At the party congress in late 2022, Xi may break longstanding post-Mao norms by seeking a third term as general secretary.

Chen Yixin, secretary-general of the party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission and a Xi loyalist, launched the rectification campaign in July. The commission supervises and administers China’s police, prosecutors, courts, and prisons. Though not explicitly mentioned in official media coverage of the rectification campaign, tensions with the US and a fragile economy are the likely background for concerns about political disloyalty and instability.

Chen said the goal was to “ensure that our law enforcement army is absolutely loyal, pure and dependable for the Communist Party” and to eliminate “corrupt elements” from the justice system. He compared the campaign to the Yan’an Rectification Movement, a purge led by Mao Zedong in the early 1940s, when the party was holed up in a remote, mountainous region of Shaanxi after escaping from the Nationalist army during the Long March.

The rectification campaign follows on other recent political-legal campaigns that touched on police corruption, such as “sweep black, eliminate evil ” (扫黑除恶), which targeted organized crime. There are signs that rectification is aimed at abuses by police and prison officials. The Ministry of Public Security, which operates the police, has suffered corruption scandals recently. Sun Lijian, a deputy public security minister, was placed under investigation by the party’s anticorruption agency in April. Meng Hongwei, who was deputy public security minister before serving as president of Interpol, was sentenced in January to 13 years in prison for corruption.

Like Wang Qishan, who led the earlier anticorruption campaign, Chen is an ally of Xi, having served in senior roles in Zhejiang province during Xi’s tenure as party secretary from 2002 to 2007. At the height of China’s Covid-19 outbreak in February, the party dispatched Chen to lead the epidemic response effort in Wuhan and to ensure social stability. Chen does not hold a senior position in the party hierarchy but has served in senior bureaucratic roles at key party organs. He is currently one of 172 alternate members of the Central Committee, which is composed of 204 regular members, but there is speculation Chen may be fast tracked up to the 25-person Politburo at the Party Congress. Guo Shengkun, as a Politburo member and secretary of Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, ostensibly outranks Chen, but Chen appears to be serving a more prominent role.

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