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Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign

Xi Jinping determined to defeat corruption

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 August, 2015, 12:54am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 August, 2015, 12:54am

It only takes a hiatus in news of "tigers" being taken down in Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign to prompt concerns that it is stalled. Any doubts were laid to rest by the recent announcement that former president Hu Jintao's top aide Ling Jihua was being handed over for criminal prosecution on corruption and other charges. They were emphatically buried by this week's official report that former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission Guo Boxiong had met the same fate for allegedly accepting bribes for promotions. It is a familiar pattern that reaffirms Xi's unflagging determination to root out systemic corruption among "tigers" and "flies" alike.

He deserves credit, in the wake of speculation his authority has been weakened by lack of progress in reforms. It takes political courage to strike against former top brass with a background of top-drawer party connections to whom most current generals and senior officers owe allegiance one way or another, often involving corruption.

The rot really set in during the term of former president Hu, now seen as having been a weak and ineffective CMC chairman. It is now evident that as a result, Guo and fellow CMC vice-chairman Xu Caihou , both close allies of Hu's predecessor Jiang Zemin , effectively ran the PLA between them for 10 years - as proxies for the influential Jiang.

Xi's anti-corruption campaign first brought down Xu, who has since died. Then it turned to Guo. This prompted concerns inside and outside the military that by not letting sleeping dogs lie, Xi was not taking account the risk to the PLA's reputation. But that had to be balanced against the need to restore morale after the internal harm done by the rampant buying and selling of promotions presided over by Xu and Guo, amid other graft.

This offered Xi a way to project his authority and strengthen his control. The timing of the moves against Ling and Guo, just ahead of the annual closed-door policymaking meeting of leaders in the beach resort of Beidaihe , serves the same purpose in two ways. It pre-empts discussion of their fate by their supporters at the summit amid concerns that the anti-corruption campaign has made bureaucrats cautious about pursuing needed reforms. And it could have distracted from focus on urgent and daunting challenges such as the economic slowdown and stock market turmoil. Indeed this summit is critical for Xi to set the agenda and ensure that economic growth does not slow too much and that reforms go ahead.