Dealing with Zhou Yongkang a dilemma for Xi

Dealing with Zhou Yongkang a dilemma for Xi

CHINESE President Xi Jinping's recent crackdown on a number of corrupt executives, targeting mainly the so-called "petroleum gang", is being lauded by the official Chinese press as displaying a strong commitment to fight corruption.

Indeed, this is the largest shake-up of the petroleum sector in the last two decades, with four top executives of oil giant China National Petroleum Corporation and its subsidiary, PetroChina, being detained and more than 250 mid-level executives of the two firms summoned to help in the investigation.

In addition, all senior executives above the level of divisional head of both companies were asked to cancel their overseas travelling plans for the time being.

A former CNPC chairman, Mr Jiang Jiemin, was sacked from his position as head of the Cabinet-level commission that oversees state-owned firms.

The anti-corruption drive provides a most convenient pretext for shaking up the petroleum sector. But the real reason behind it is power consolidation by Mr Xi.

To consolidate power, the President needs to weed out the influences of former security czar Zhou Yongkang, whose power base included the petroleum sector.

Mr Xi has to purge Mr Zhou for his alleged collusion with former Chongqing boss Bo Xilai to dethrone him. This attempted coup came to light only when Bo's right-hand man, former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, defected to the US consulate in Chengdu in February last year.

During Bo's trial last month for graft, bribery and abuse of power, the close relationship between the two was again highlighted when Bo, in his defence, argued that the way he handled Wang's defection was based on a "six-point instruction from a senior leader". There is little doubt that the "senior leader" was Mr Zhou, then in charge of the internal security apparatus.

In addition, Mr Zhou had voted on March 7 last year against sacking Bo from his job after the defection scandal took place, according to a source.

Given the treacherousness of the duo's alleged plot calling into question the loyalty of the man who once controlled the country's internal security, Mr Xi's position cannot be secure unless he goes after Mr Zhou's linkages. Hence this campaign to tear down Mr Zhou's network, layer by layer, beginning with the police system, then his Sichuan province connections and now the petroleum sector.

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