The annual meeting of China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) concluded yesterday, and it’s clear from the results that the Communist Party’s anti-corruption purges will continue unabated in 2016. As we wrote last week, the CCDI’s priorities for 2016 are a useful gauge for ascertaining how successful President Xi Jinping will be at consolidating centralized authority for himself and the Communist Party of China (CPC) in the wake of tensions with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and stresses on the Chinese economy stemming from slowing growth. Despite a rough start on both of these fronts, the CCDI appears to have lost none of its vigor.
According to the China Daily newspaper, the CCDI punished 91,550 officials for corruption in 2015. A CCDI statement on Jan. 12 said that approximately 34,000 of the infractions were “frugality violations,” such as the personal use of official vehicles or the giving and receiving of bribes. China Daily also reported that more than 40 high-level officials had been dismissed from the party for breaching the CPC’s code of conduct. As if to punctuate this point, during a State Council Information Office press conference the day after the plenary session ended, CCDI officials said that Wei Hong, governor of Sichuan Province, was being investigated for “severe disciplinary violations.” According to the South China Morning Post, Wei is an “associate” of former state security chief Zhou Yongkang, who posed a potential threat to Xi. Zhou, in addition to being close to former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, is also the most senior official targeted in the anti-corruption drive thus far and is currently serving a life sentence in prison.
There was a slight conciliatory tone in some of the CCDI’s statements. State news agency Xinhua reported that a CCDI communique issued after the plenary session insisted that the number of severe violations that necessitated harsh punishment was actually low – which may be true in relative terms, considering the CPC’s membership exceeds 85 million people. The CCDI also said that it was committed to solving the CPC’s corruption problems so that fewer corruption cases would be investigated in the future.
Overall, however, it is clear from the three-day meeting that the anti-corruption purges will continue in 2016. Xi himself addressed the CCDI and said that the CPC would be issuing new measures in order to further the goals of the commission, though he did not explicitly state what those measures would be. A CCDI statement said that it would focus on corrupt officials holding high posts who had thus far not restrained themselves from corrupt behavior. The CCDI statement also said that one of the key topics at the conference was the relationship between Chinese laws and the stricter standards adopted by the CPC. Members of the CPC can expect to be held to a higher standard than just following the letter of the law.
At a particularly volatile and transformative time in China, the CPC’s need for discipline and Xi’s need to ensure the loyalty of party officials throughout the country are even greater than normal. Therefore, the CCDI is pushing forward – and the absence of any meaningful signs of backlash is a sign that, at least in this regard, the CPC and Xi are finding some degree of success.