China’s Communist Party on Saturday expelled and arrested its former security czar, Zhou Yongkang, accusing him of massive bribery, theft of government resources and sharing of state secrets.
Zhou is the most powerful former official to be purged in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign, which started in 2013 and has ramped up this year. With a near-daily drumbeat of actions taken against corrupt officials, Xi is clearly trying to persuade China’s citizenry that its one-party government is capable of cleansing itself.
The Communist Party orchestrated the early morning announcement with an editorial denouncing Zhou in the People’s Daily, its official mouthpiece.
“The Party and corruption are like water and fire,” the commentary said. “The Party’s nature and purpose require persistent combat against corruption. Upholding the Party's leadership and cementing the Party's ruling also require persistent combat against corruption.”
While Zhou's arrest wasn’t unexpected _ his downfall had been revealed months ago _ the charge of leaking state secrets was a surprise. That might allow China to prosecute Zhou behind closed doors, as opposed to the open trial that captivated Chinese citizens last year when Bo Xilai, the former boss of Chongqing, was put on trial and convicted for corruption.
Although hundreds of officials have been swept up in Xi’s anti-graft crusade, Zhou is the first member of China’s Politburo Standing Committee to face investigation. Because of the nature of China’s legal system, which Zhou helped create, the 72-year-old former security chief will almost assuredly be convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in jail.
Zhou, before his fall, held several key positions in the party’s top ranks. As security chief, he ran a police apparatus that could lock up dissidents and party rivals. He also ran China’s vast petroleum industries and allegedly operated a network of money-making operations in Sichuan Province in the nation’s southwest.
According to a report in China’s Xinhua news service, Zhou “exploited his position to obtain unlawful gains for multiple people.” He also helped “relatives, mistresses and friends make massive earnings through their business activities, creating massive losses for state-owned assets,” the report said.
Although the Xinhua report included scurrilous details about Zhou’s activities, including trading “favors and money for sex with multiple women,” it did not detail what state secrets he allegedly leaked.
That kind of serious charge could result in a closed trial for Zhou, preventing him from making public any dirt he may have on standing party officials. If convicted, he could face a death sentence, an outcome that many analysts consider unlikely.
Saturday’s editorial in the People’s Daily suggested Zhou’s punishment will be harsh.
“We must stick to the attitude of no tolerance, the resolve of strong treatment, the courage to scrape poison from the bones, and the measure of severe punishment,” the commentary said.