China Graft Probe 'Likely First of Many'

2013-05-15
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china-liu-tienan-jan-2012.jpg
Liu Tienan, former SDRC vice minister and National Energy Administration director, attends a press conference in Beijing on Jan. 8, 2012.
ImagineChina

As China announces the investigation of a top planning official for corruption, more high-profile cases are likely to follow as the administration of President Xi Jinping seeks to consolidate power during its first year in office, analysts said on Wednesday.

The sacking of Liu Tienan, former vice minister at the powerful State Development and Reform Commission (SDRC), for "suspected serious violations of discipline" this week, is believed by some to be an indirect attack on political and financial interests linked to the family of former Chinese premier Li Peng.

According to Cai Yongmei, editor of the Hong Kong-based magazine Kaifang, Liu's former posting as head of the powerful National Energy Administration brought him into close dealings with Li Peng's family and associates via their interests in nationwide power projects.

"China's entire power generation and supply system is controlled by Li Peng and his family, and even if only Liu Tienan falls, this is still a huge attack on them," she said.

Liu Tienan's dismissal comes after the ruling Chinese Communist Party placed him under investigation after a high-profile journalist accused him of collusion with commercial interests and fraudulent claims about his education.

Caijing magazine deputy editor Luo Changping, who said he spent a year fact-checking the allegations, made the claims in a post on the hugely popular Sina Weibo microblogging platform on Monday.

Cai said it remains to be seen exactly how far Party investigators will take the case, however.

"If they were to get to the bottom of this case, it would be huge, because [Liu] had many connections and powerful interests backing him behind the scenes," she said.

"But I don't think they will take this investigation all the way," Cai added. "They can only go so far with it."

'Untouchable' officials

China scored poorly in an annual global corruption index published last year by Transparency International, ranking 80th out of 176 countries, down five places from the previous year.

President Xi Jinping has warned that the Communist Party must beat graft or lose power, sparking a nationwide clampdown on corruption.

However, political analysts say that officials with friends in the right places are unlikely to be touched by the crackdown, and reports suggest many are liquidating their assets and making moves overseas.

"In the second half of this year, the Party's central commission for discipline inspection is going to be taking more and more action," Liu Dawen, former editor of the Hong Kong-based political magazine Outpost, said in an interview on Wednesday.

"They will probably be anticorruption cases along the same lines as this one."

"My sources are telling me that ... he won't get off lightly," Liu added.

Seven taboo topics

Meanwhile, analysts said Xi's administration is beginning to put its stamp on Party ideology with a secret "Document No. 9," banning any talk of seven taboo topics in higher education institutions.

According to former top Party aide Bao Tong, under house arrest at his Beijing home since the fall of late premier Zhao Ziyang, rumors of the seven taboos are already circulating in the corridors of power.

"I have heard that seven great taboos have been set by the general office of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, that they are instructions to teaching staff in higher education," Bao wrote in a commentary on RFA's Mandarin Service on Tuesday, calling on the government to be open about its ideology.

He listed the banned topics as: universal values, press freedom, civil society, citizens' rights, the historical mistakes of the Party, the financial and political elite, and judicial independence.

'An act of stealth'

Cai said Xi's administration appears to be distancing itself from its predecessors with the move.

"Universal values, press freedom, a civil society—all these things were talked about by [former premier] Wen Jiabao, so now they absolutely cannot be mentioned," she said.

"I am guessing that this is the meaning behind Document No. 9."

She said the taboo topics are being circulated behind closed doors, rather than being announced in the state-run media.

"This is an act of stealth, which has a flavor of a regime that is a bit unstable," Cai said.

Reported by Fang Yuan and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.