The Communist Party of China’s anti-corruption campaign may be set to expand. Xinhua News Agency reported on Dec. 6 that the party will intensify anti-corruption measures in the next two years. Quoting a disciplinary official in the CPC’s Central Committee, the report said that the CPC intended to inspect all of China’s various ministries, local governments, state-owned enterprises, banks and other institutions in advance of the 19th CPC National Congress, which will be held towards the end of 2017. The official said that the CPC had overseen 149 inspections since 2012 and more than 100 others would need to be conducted before the end of next year.
The report follows the Political Bureau of the CPC’s Central Committee’s adoption of new rules on Oct. 12 for the over 88 million CPC members. These rules simplified previous directives by approving an eight-article general code of ethics all party members need to uphold. The new rules have broader applicability, as not only party leaders are obligated to comply but party members as well. The CPC is making it clear that all party members will be held to a higher standard.
For the moment, China’s economic struggles have been replaced in the headlines. The war raging in the Middle East, the European refugee crisis, terrorist attacks not just in Paris but all over the world, and the confrontation between Russia and the West in Ukraine are all more tangible points of crisis. The news about China has been relatively positive for the most part. The International Monetary Fund announced on Nov. 30 it would add the Chinese yuan to its reserve currency basket next year. Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to Paris for the climate summit and from there visited Zimbabwe and South Africa, promising investment and friendship. The Chinese stock market, which set off a global market sell-off after declining in value 34 percent from June through September, has moderately bounced back.
Beneath this veneer, however, the CPC and Xi are also facing a challenge of their own. It is a challenge that many Chinese leaders have faced – ensuring that regional and local bureaucracy take their orders from Beijing – and used similar tactics to respond. In the present, the need to implement economic reforms requires that the CPC increase its control over the country without provoking a backlash. The CPC’s anti-corruption campaign is aimed at removing potential threats to Xi’s power and giving the CPC revitalized legitimacy in the eyes of the Chinese people, without basing this legitimacy solely on guaranteeing their prosperity.
Xinhua’s report is a possible signal that CPC’s purges are intensifying. The anti-corruption campaign, which began in 2012, has resulted in over 100,000 officials being punished for violating CPC rules. From the start, the anti-corruption drive has not shied from purging senior party members, and some of the campaign’s recent successes demonstrate that this reality has remained and expanded. After Nov.10 and 11, with the arrests of Lu Xiwen, the deputy secretary of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee, and the beginning of an investigation into Vice Mayor of Shanghai Ai Baojun, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) has targeted officials of high rank in all of the 31 provinces that are under Beijing’s direct control. On July 30, the highest ranking official in the People’s Liberation Army – former Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Guo Boxiong – was stripped of his party membership for allegedly taking bribes. Shortly before this, former Chinese President Hu Jintao’s de facto chief of staff, Ling Jihua, was arrested and similarly expelled from the party on July 21.
That the anti-corruption strategy is set to include investigation of even more Chinese institutions is in line with Geopolitical Futures’ forecast for 2016. We are expecting the current growing dictatorship in China to intensify moderately in the coming year. If Xi can solidify his position and revitalize the CPC’s image, he will be better able to maintain control over the country. Xi has already used nationalism and superficial aggressiveness in the South China Sea in an attempt to boost his position at home. The important issue to track going forward is whether Xi and the CPC will continue to enjoy success, or whether there is a point at which their purges go too far and encourage precisely the type of regional dissent that Beijing fears.