Call it for what it is: an old fashioned party purge. 250,000 communist officials have been caught up so far in a massive effort to impose central control on local officials, with signs now that the purge could be catching Chinese diplomats in its sweep. The Financial Times:
China unexpectedly recalled its ambassador to India shortly before a state visit to the country this month by President Xi Jinping. The move came as news emerged about the mysterious disappearance of another Chinese diplomat in Iceland who was alleged to have spied for Japan.Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, announced the day before Mr Xi’s arrival in India that Wei Wei had been replaced as ambassador in New Delhi by Le Yucheng, who had been posted in Kazakhstan.Several senior diplomats from other countries said they were baffled by the move but there was no agreement on the possible causes. They said Mr Wei might have been shunted out to make way for one of Mr Xi’s loyalists, or fallen foul of an anti-corruption campaign that has brought down tens of thousands of Chinese officials since it began early last year.
It is very difficult for outsiders to understand what is going on. The fight against corruption is much too simplistic a framing concept. There are, of course, years of well documented cases of corruption extending into leadership circles and families. It is likely that many of the officials arrested or subjected to discipline did in fact violate the law and in many cases behaved abominably. But it is also clear that none of them will get what Western societies would consider true due process. They will be tried and punished by a party machine that is increasingly under the control of President Xi and his allies—and a climate of fear will spread as more of China’s rulers and officials understand just how few rights or options they have.
We don’t claim to have the answers to the political and social problems confronting China’s rulers, and if someone installed the TAI team as supreme leaders of China today, we would doubtless make a terrible hash of it. We can understand how President Xi and his team may see the rampant corruption in the party and the growing public resentment against it as serious threats to domestic stability, and we can sympathize with the central leadership’s evident desire to gather the reins of power closely in its hands as tumultuous times loom ahead . The democracy protests in Hong Kong this week will have doubtless only strengthened that desire.
But centralizing power in the leadership of a one party state is a dangerous game; 20th-century precedents in both the Soviet Union and China don’t augur well for the long term consequences of the widening purge.