The expulsion of once-rising political star Sun Zhengcai from the ruling Chinese Communist Party and a criminal probe into "serious disciplinary violations" on his part comes as President Xi Jinping continues to thin the ranks of the ruling party leadership ahead of a crucial five-yearly congress later this month, analysts said.
According to state media, the fall of former Chongqing party chief Sun Zhengcai, 54, "fully demonstrates ... the party's firm determination and unflinching mettle to carry through to the end the fight against corruption," according to an editorial in party newspaper the People's Daily.
"Corruption is a tumor that has intruded into the party's healthy body, and the campaign for stricter self-governance of the party is a war, but without the smoke of gunpowder," the paper thundered.
"Sun's case once again sounds the alarm bell to the whole party," it said.
Its sister-paper, the tabloid Global Times, said Sun had accepted a "huge amount" of money and gifts in return for ignoring party and government rules, taking advantage of his position to seek benefits for others.
"He was also accused of bureaucracy and sloth in work and degradation and power-for-sex trades in life," the paper said. "It should be noted that he committed all these grave crimes."
But political analysts said Sun has fallen victim to a power struggle in the corridors of power in Beijing, as President Xi Jinping moves ever closer to the kind of supreme leadership not seen since the death of Deng Xiaoping.
Hu Ping, the New York-based editor of the Chinese-language monthly Beijing Spring, said the system of collective leadership by a seven-man Politburo standing committee established during Deng's tenure is now clearly over.
"Since Xi Jinping came to power, he has been intent on expanding his personal power," Hu said. "It's clear that he is unwilling to accept any potential successors picked by his predecessors, so he has taken the knife to Sun Zhengcai."
"This in itself suggests that he has put paid to the system for choosing the next generation of leaders."
Hu said the announcement of Sun's fall in the run-up to the opening of the 19th Party Congress shows that Xi's power strategy appears to be working.
"I think we will be seeing more such moves before the Party Congress formally opens," Hu said. "The aim will be to create a high-pressure atmosphere that will ensure that delegates to the congress enable Xi Jinping to complete his plan smoothly."
Chinese constitutional scholar Zhang Lifan agreed, saying that Sun's fall is part of a campaign by Xi to suppress an entire generation of potential successors who were endorsed by his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin under a form of power-sharing developed after the death of late supreme leader Mao Zedong and the fall of the Gang of Four later that year.
"Xi wants to get rid of the whole next generation that he inherited from Hu and Jiang," Zhang said. "He is planning to handpick [politicians] who are loyal to himself."
"Also, the whole question of whether or not Xi will seek a third term in office is another reason for the rather low priority given to the succession of power to the next generation," he said.
Zhang said Sun was recently praised by fugitive billionaire Guo Wengui, whose accusations of massive corruption linked to relatives of the Communist Party's anti corruption czar Wang Qishan have made him one of Beijing's most-wanted men.
"It is possible that Wang and Xi have a sense they're [their leadership is] in crisis ... and they have become united against external opponents," he said. "The fall of Sun Zhengcai would be the best indicator of that, and also of the united partnership formed by Wang and Xi."
Political journalists in China are interpreting Sun's fall to mean that his replacement Chen Min'er is being groomed as a potential successor to Xi, according to political commentator Gao Xin.
"This argument isn't without merit [but] Xi Jinping has already returned to the single leadership model of the Cultural Revolution, that of the Great Helmsman holding all the power," Gao wrote in a recent commentary for RFA's Mandarin Service. "The role of premier has lost the importance it had under Hu and Jiang, so it really makes no difference to Xi [who succeeds Li Keqiang as premier]."
Beijing-based current affairs commentator Zhou Xiaozheng said Sun's downfall was predictable from a close reading of moves made by Xi during the five years following the 18th Party Congress in 2012, because falls like Sun's are built into China's political structure.
"[Sun was near the top of the party] power base, which is shaped like a pyramid," Zhou said. "He was already a member of the Politburo, so the next step would be the Politburo standing committee."
"The higher you go, the closer to the summit, the fiercer the competition becomes," Zhou said. "It's not only not surprising; it is an inevitable outcome of [this structure]."
"The higher you go, the more dangerous it gets."
A total of 2,287 party delegates will gather in Beijing on Oct. 18 to decide the leadership line-up for Xi’s second term and to discuss and endorse major changes to the party charter.
In Sun's backyard of Chongqing, however, around one-third of the city's party congress delegates have been dropped, with a number of his political allies also likely facing investigation, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper reported.
Reported by Lin Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.