While China has indicted a former military leader on corruption charges, behind the scenes of a top-level meeting, support for President Xi Jinping's all-out anti-corruption campaign has drained away, leaving only sloganeering about "the rule of law," analysts said on Tuesday.
Chinese authorities on Monday announced the indictment of top People's Liberation Army (PLA) general Xu Caihou for corruption, a political ally of a former security chief who is also under investigation.
Meanwhile, a top-level meeting of the ruling Chinese Communist Party closed last week with the announcement "authority must have clear boundaries," official Chinese media reported.
The move represents "a big change from the previous rule by man and by power," the state-run China Daily newspaper said in a commentary on Tuesday.
When more than 200 members of the party's powerful Central Committee met last week, there was no mention in China's tightly controlled media of former security czar Zhou Yongkang.
But the breaking of the taboo on investigating a former official of Zhou's rank is likely to have dominated the behind-closed-doors discussions.
And while the rule of law theme is unlikely to signal any genuine change in the direction of judicial independence, it masks resistance within China's political elite to Xi's growing personal power wielded through his anti-corruption campaign, analysts said.
"He is faced with pressure from the bureaucracy, firstly because many of those officials he is targeting are capable people with friends in high places, who are putting up strong resistance," U.S.-based political commentator Wang Juntao told RFA.
"Secondly, a lot of the people within the bureaucratic system are slacking off, waiting to see which way the wind blows," he said.
"This is causing a lot of problems within the system."
"The way things stand right now, Xi Jinping is unable to overcome this pressure," he said.
Putting the brakes
While Xu's indictment may give the appearance that all is proceeding apace, Xi's high-ranking colleagues and former leaders have actually joined forces behind the scenes to put the brakes on the campaign, which has already broken an important political taboo, Hu Ping, U.S.-based editor of the online journal Beijing Spring, said.
"Xi Jinping isn't an emperor, and his power doesn't come through his bloodline; it is given to him by his peers in the leadership," Hu said in a recent commentary broadcast on RFA's Mandarin Service.
He said Xi's campaign, which targets high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies," had always been a form of political power struggle, which eventually went after Zhou, breaking an unwritten ban on investigations of members and former members of the all-powerful Politburo standing committee.
"Xi's anti-corruption campaign has upset the balance of power during the Jiang [Zemin] administration and the Hu [Jintao] era, strengthening his individual power, and posing a serious threat both to his colleagues and retired former leaders," Hu Ping said.
"That's why they have banded together to put a stop to it," he said.
He said the consensus is that Xi must now draw the line under the campaign after bagging several high-ranking "tigers" including Xu, Zhou and many of his senior allies.
'Not enough backing'
A Beijing-based writer, who asked to be identified only by his surname Liu, agreed.
"The main problem now is probably that he doesn't have enough backing [to continue]," he said.
"When policies change, it usually involves a reapportioning of benefits, with some people losing out and others gaining," Liu said.
"But with Xi Jinping's policies, it's hard to see clearly who benefits, and so it's clear that he lacks support," he added.
Hong Kong-based scholar and political commentator Hu Shaojiang said the official media reporting of the strengthening of the "rule of law" and curbs on state power is largely rhetoric.
"More than anything else, the ruling party and the Chinese leadership fear that being subject to the rule of law will affect their position of unrivalled privilege," he said in a commentary on RFA's Cantonese Service.
"This plenum, far from actually strengthening the rule of law, is using the rule of law as a slogan in order to strengthen the rule of the party," he said.
The "rule of law," must still be underpinned by the politics and ideology of the ruling party, he said.
"Party organizations remain in control of the judicial system, exerting direct influence on its implementation," he said.
"The Communist Party doesn't dare to implement the rule of law; that is the thinly veiled reality."
Meanwhile, the indictment of Xu paves the way for a criminal trial.
Xu, 71, has been expelled from the Communist Party, discharged from military service and stripped of his rank, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
He stands accused of introducing a "cash for ranks" policy in promotions and was found to have taken advantage of his position to assist the promotion of other people, accepting "huge amounts of bribes" personally and through his family, the report said.
Xu was also found to have sought profits for others in exchange for bribes taken via his relatives, it said.
President Xi's anti-graft campaign has also been marred by allegations of torture under the party's internal disciplinary processes, known as "shuanggui."
The party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), which administers the shuanggui system, announced in July it would begin a corruption probe targeting Zhou, the highest-ranking official to be investigated publicly since communist rule began.
But Chinese lawyers have criticized the shuanggui system as a throwback to the Mao era of kangaroo courts and political "struggle sessions" which took the decisions of the ruling party as a form of law.
Reported by Shi Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.