Seeking perspective on Xi's anti-graft campaign

Seeking perspective on Xi's anti-graft campaign
Bo Xilai stands as the decision of his appeal is announced at the Shandong Higher People's Court in Jinan

As the anti-graft campaign initiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to snare targets big and small, many speculate that the crackdown is going beyond a short-term push to signal a "new normal" in China. However, to fully understand the impact the initiative is having, and the resulting slowdown of business activity across the country, one needs to read behind the headlines of the high-profile arrests.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, China's top anti-graft body, announced April 19 it had punished 2,673 Chinese Communist Party members in the first three months of the year. More than 90 per cent of these cases were at the village level. The most common offence? Misuse of official vehicles.

"Tiger" hunting

However, it is not these little "flies" but the downfall of big "tigers" that has captured the Chinese public's imagination. Since Xi launched the campaign in 2012, his anti-graft czar, CCDI head Wang Qishan, has claimed five major scalps.

The first, and most high-profile internationally, was Bo Xilai, a former minister of commerce and later the mayor of Chongqing, whose downfall was precipitated by his wife's murder of a British businessman. Commentators have speculated that Bo's real offence was attempting to build his own power base in preparation for a grab for power at the most senior levels of government, possibly even with the ambition of snatching the top job from Xi.

Ling Jihua, former head of the General Office of the Communist Party Central Committee and the chief political fixer for Hu Jintao when he was president, was arrested last year. His star had been on the decline since his son died when a Ferrari he was driving crashed on one of Beijing's outer ring roads. Xi's willingness to target such a close associate of Hu's has been much remarked upon.

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