China is set to probe a fourth high-ranking official as the ruling Chinese Communist Party pushes ahead with a campaign against corruption in its ranks, although there is limited scope for the purge to continue indefinitely, analysts said on Tuesday.
Ling Jihua, a senior Party official and national political adviser, is now under investigation for "suspected serious disciplinary violation," the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in a brief statement on Monday.
Ling, once a top aide of former president Hu Jintao who stepped down in November 2012, is currently vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee and head of the United Front Work Department of the party Central Committee.
The move, announced late on Monday in a statement by the CCDI, drew a flurry of appreciative comments on China's closely censored social media platforms.
"Great job! Didn't think they'd get another tiger in the bag," Tencent Weibo user @pinganjiankang tweeted at the news, while @shentanjiangjun wrote: "I support Xi Jinping...you are great!"
But commentators said the anti-corruption campaign has more to do with factional politics at the heart of the ruling party than with a genuine bid to clean up rampant official corruption, which is endemic at every level of China's government.
According to online writer and political commentator Liu Yiming, Ling was closely associated with jailed former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai, who was jailed for life for corruption and abuse of power in September 2013.
A month earlier, Bo's wife Gu Kailai was handed a suspended death sentence for the murder of a British businessman in the biggest political scandal to rock the party in decades.
"Everyone knows that Ling Jihua was very close to Bo Xilai, and the fact that Ling was able to rise to such high office was largely down to Bo Xilai and his family," Liu said.
"So in this respect he is kind of anathema to Xi Jinping."
Ling was head of the Communist Party secretariat under President Hu Jintao, who retired in November 2012 without retaining control of the Central Military Commission, a post usually held for a further two years by retiring party elders.
Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper, which broke the story of Ling's investigation last week, predicted that even higher-ranking officials could yet be targeted by Xi's campaign.
'Show is over'
Liu disagreed, however, saying there is now limited appetite for an ongoing corruption campaign among powerful party elders, in spite of a 2012 pledge from Xi to go after both high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies."
"The Chinese Communist Party's anti-corruption show is already over," Liu said. "Ling Jihua will be the last big tiger."
He added: "If they go for anyone higher-ranking than him, it won't be likes of Hu Jintao or Jiang Zemin. But I don't think there'll be any more big tigers."
He cited an article from veteran political journalist Gao Yu, who last month stood trial for "leaking state secrets overseas," which suggested that the haul of "tigers" would be limited to four high-ranking officials.
That group, according to Gao, consists of Bo, his political mentor and former security czar Zhou Yongkang, high-ranking general Xu Caihou, and Ling.
"Ling Jihua's fall actually confirms a story written by Gao Yu which described a 'new Gang of Four' comprising Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang, Xu Caihou, and Ling Jihua," Liu said. "Now we see that this is indeed what is going on."
Chongqing-based independent commentator Zhang Qi said Xi's campaign bears all the hallmarks of a factional witch-hunt, with prolonged secret detentions of suspects and little transparency.
"They are using illegal methods of detention to extend punishment to some corrupt officials by keeping it in the family," Zhang said. "This alone should tell you that what we're seeing is a political power struggle."
"It doesn't show us that the Chinese Communist Party is serious about corruption, or that it has become more enlightened about it, or that it's changing its ways," he said. "That is not apparent at all."
Asked about widespread support from online commentators, Zhang added: "This sort of populist anti-corruption campaign gets support from the lowest-ranking people in society, but it's not a genuine fight against corruption."
Zhang said China's leaders have a different agenda, comparing Xi's anti-graft campaign to those of Hitler and Mussolini, which also won widespread public support.
"Popular support isn't an indicator that we're heading towards a more civilized future," he said. "We could be heading for the abyss."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.