CHINA - A dance of sorts has been going on in China for over a year, and nobody really knows when it will end. But when it does, chances are that it isn't going to look pretty for China's former security chief Zhou Yongkang.
Since December last year, like a predator encircling its prey, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has mounted a dragnet around the former Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) member - by sacking his former confidantes and aides, and investigating them for corruption and various offences.
The latest to fall is former public security vice-minister Li Dongsheng. His sacking, announced last Friday, marks the first time the CCP is targeting the massive security apparatus Mr Zhou, 71, led before his retirement from the apex PSC in November last year.
Over the past year, the party has gone after Mr Zhou's proteges in his two other power bases: south-western Sichuan province where he was party boss from 1999 to 2002, and the petroleum industry where he worked for 30 years. The witch hunt is thought to have begun with the sacking of former Sichuan deputy boss Li Chuncheng last December.
"It has been a very elaborate process in trying to take Zhou Yongkang down. The CCP... has the evidence to nail him but is going through this elaborate process as part of psychological warfare to pressure him into confessing to his 'crimes'," said Hong Kong- based analyst Willy Lam.
Analysts said the time taken to nail Mr Zhou is longer compared to the CCP's ousting of past high-ranking officials, given his status as a retired PSC member and network of supporters across a wider radius. Former Beijing party boss Chen Xitong's downfall in April 1995, for instance, was signalled two months before with probes into state-owned Capital Iron and Steel implicating Beijing vice-mayor Wang Baosen, who committed suicide on April 4. Three weeks later, Chen quit his post and was sacked from the Politburo in September.
In August 2006, investigations into Shanghai's labour and social security bureau implicated the personal secretary of the financial hub's party boss Chen Liangyu. A month later, Chen was suspended from the Politburo and sacked from his Shanghai post.
Most recently, former Chongqing party boss and Politburo member Bo Xilai was sacked a month after protege Wang Lijun fled to the United States consulate in Chengdu early last year.