Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin have indicted a former top ruling Communist Party official for bribery, giving a rare public glimpse of an attempted palace coup at the highest echelons of leadership, analysts told RFA.
Former Chongqing party secretary and Politburo member Sun Zhengcai was indicted this week by the Tianjin prosecutor’s office, paving the way for his trial at the Tianjin No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court, state news agency Xinhua reported.
Sun stands accused of taking advantage of his posts to seek profits for others and illegally accepted huge amounts of money and property during postings to Beijing’s Shunyi district, Beijing’s municipal party committee, Jilin province, while serving on the 25-member Politburo and as Chongqing party chief, it said.
A senior official has said that the investigation into Sun was sparked after authorities discovered his involvement in a “conspiracy” to overthrow President Xi Jinping.
The chairman of China's securities regulator Liu Shiyu told a meeting of top finance officials during the 19th party congress last October that the once-rising political star had plotted to seize power from the current leadership.
According to New York-based China scholar Xie Xuanjun, Sun’s ambitions were already widely rumored before his downfall.
“There were rumors going around last year, when they started investigating him, that his mistress gave him an imperial dragon robe as a gift, and lately this was confirmed by Caixin Weekly,” Xie told RFA.
“Palace plots run deep in the psyche of the Chinese, because the imperial families ruled by turns, and a lot of people wanted to become rulers, which was why Chinese emperors were always getting overthrown,” he said.
Xia Ming, a political science professor at the The City University of New York, agreed.
The Dragon Robe
“Everybody used to think that the real challengers to Xi Jinping were [jailed former Chongqing party chief] Bo Xilai and [former security czar] Zhou Yongkang, but now it turns out that Sun Zhengcai had his eye on the dragon robe as well,” Xia said.
Xia said Sun’s indictment will give out a strong message to any other potential challengers.
“Xi Jinping’s position as supreme ruler is now very solid,” he said. “He would be very hard to challenge, and anyone who tries it will wind up like Sun Zhengcai.”
Grassroots anti-corruption campaigner Ma Bo said the sheer number of high-ranking officials under investigation by the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) since Xi took power is strong evidence of a factional power struggle behind the scenes.
“I don’t think we can say that this is entirely about fighting corruption,” Ma said. “In-fighting and power struggles between officials can’t be ruled out.”
“We can only be sure that this is a real anti-corruption campaign when they start investigating those around the president, not just those who take a different line,” he said.
Anti-graft activist Duan Xiaowen called on the government to allow popular participation in the anti-corruption effort.
“I think that ordinary people can play an important role in the fight against corruption, and yet I have come under huge pressure [from the authorities],” Duan said.
But he added: “I plan to keep going with it, though.”
Former official expelled
Meanwhile, former deputy propaganda czar Lu Wei, once dubbed the “father” of the Great Firewall of government internet censorship, has been expelled from the Communist Party.
Lu is currently being investigated by the CCDI, and several of his associates and colleagues at the powerful Cyberspace Administration, which he headed until June 2016, have also been taken into custody by CCDI investigators for questioning, according to Chinese media reports.
Lu, 57, was greeted in Mandarin by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg during a December 2014 trip to the United States, during which he also told Apple's Tim Cook that Beijing would decide whether to allow products to enter the Chinese market.
He was last seen in public on Oct. 24.
Reported by Gao Shan for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.