President Xi Jinping’s efforts to tackle corruption in China raised a few eyebrows outside the country. Was he really interested in purging corrupt officials from even the highest echelons of China’s leadership? Did he really intend to impose austerity measures on the famously lavish Communist Party? A year ago, Xi made headlines by banning the Party’s opulent, taxpayer-funded banquets, encouraging officials to eat only “four dishes and a soup” and carpool together, and vowing to crack down on “flies” and “tigers”—code words for corrupt officials.These efforts have brought down the low, the high, and those in-between. “Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has lasted longer, gone deeper, and struck higher than many analysts and academics had expected,” Dexter Roberts reported for Bloomberg last week, “something no leader has done before.” The biggest tiger to fall was Zhou Yongkang, a retired domestic security chief who is now under house arrest; 300 of Zhou’s former associates and acolytes have been investigated or arrested as the sprawling investigation goes deeper and deeper. And Xi’s not done yet. “The work of criticism and self-criticism should be intensified,” he told a group of regional Party officials last month. “Adding a bit of chili pepper to make every Party official blush and sweat a little.”But as Reuters reports today, citing seven unnamed sources, this corruption investigation is simply “a means to an end.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to use a purge of senior officials suspected of corruption to put his own men and reform-minded bureaucrats into key positions across the Communist Party, the government and the military…In the most far-reaching example of his intentions, Xi plans to promote about 200 progressive officials from the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, where he served as party boss from 2002 to 2007, to senior positions across the spectrum in the years ahead, two of them said.
It’s nothing new for a Chinese leader to be promoting allies and taking down rivals on trumped up charges, but Xi Jinping is doing it with more gusto than his predecessors. The reason, Jonathan Fenby speculates in the Financial Times, could be that he “dreams of shaking docile China from its slumber.” Xi isn’t interested in the “self-abnegation” past Chinese leaders like Deng Xiaoping advocated. He wants China to “play a political role commensurate with its economic clout.”The crisis in Ukraine has provided a tough test for this goal. China has had to walk a tightrope through the crisis, balancing its competing concerns: an unwillingness to support countries that meddle in the affairs of others, and a hesitation to support a popular uprising against autocratic rule. China abstained from the UN Security Council vote on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but Beijing reportedly voiced anger when the Russian Foreign Minister said the two countries were on the same page. Xi’s rearranging of officials at home could soon provide some clarity on how his administration intends to pursue foreign policy going forward. Will he be able to put his men in the right positions of leadership and realize his dream of a muscular dragon on the international stage? Or will there be a backlash against the purges, as the Reuters reporters suggest is already under way?