When Xi Jinping’s party purge of “tigers and flies” took aim at former security chief Zhou Yongkang in July, it marked the fall of the highest ranking official yet to be investigated. There was hardly any doubt that this biggest “tiger” was going down, and now expectations have been fulfilled; Zhou was formally arrested and kicked out of the Chinese Communist Party last week. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The Communist Party expelled Mr. Zhou from its ranks after an investigation by the party’s internal watchdog determined that he leaked state secrets, took advantage of his position for financial gain and engaged in adultery, the government’s Xinhua News Agency said. […]Officials of Mr. Zhou’s rank have traditionally been considered untouchable, particularly once they retire. The public takedown of Mr. Zhou shows how President Xi Jinping has solidified his power in China’s hierarchy.Mr. Xi has said that his anticorruption campaign aims to re-establish trust in the party—a challenge that becomes increasingly complex as the economy slows, coming off decades of breakneck growth.Mr. Zhou could become the most senior Communist Party official to face criminal charges since the early 1980s, when members of Mao Zedong ’s inner circle were purged in show-trials after the chairman’s death.
Xi’s campaign has already purged over a quarter million party members, with no signs of slowing. As we have written, although it is being sold to the people as a drive against official corruption, the purge is a fundamentally political move aimed at consolidating power at the very top. It’s no coincidence that this is the biggest takedown since Mao’s death; Xi is working to become the most powerful man in China since the chairman—or at least since Deng Xiaoping. That’s why the takedowns of the biggest tigers are so important; as Xi thins the ranks of officials who can challenge him, the halls of Chinese power are left empty of anyone but his loyalists, those too terrified to challenge him, and, of course, himself.