The Chinese Communist Party graft-buster’s big shot at a lasting legacy
Key party meeting to consider two sets of internal party regulations spearheaded by Wang Qishan. But how long will they last after he steps down?
After heading a ferocious national anti-corruption campaign for four years, the Communist Party’s top graft-buster will see one of his final legacies for this term laid down at a key gathering that starts in Beijing on Monday.
The four-day plenum of the party’s Central Committee, a meeting of 200-plus members and roughly 170 alternate members, is expected to endorse two important internal party regulations governing the conduct of its members.
Those regulations were driven by Wang Qishan, head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party body charged with keeping members in line.
Wang has overseen the netting of thousands of corrupt cadres and more than 100 high-ranking officials. Among the fallen are former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, who was in charge of the nation’s security apparatus, and two former vice-chairmen of the powerful Central Military Commission.
Wang, a key ally of President Xi Jinping, will be 69 when the party carries out a major leadership reshuffle late next year and is expected to step down from the Politburo Standing Committee, assuming the informal retirement age of 68 still holds – which is far from certain according to some China-watchers.
Regardless of whether he retires, the Central Committee plenum this week will probably be Wang’s most important appearance before his present five-year term ends.
State media said the gathering would discuss the two sets of regulations, one spelling out guiding principles for political life within the party “under new circumstances”, and the other revising a trial regulation on party internal supervision.
Together, the rules lay out a system for conduct that would steer the party away from its piecemeal approach to enforcing discipline.
The guiding principles, which are the second from the top in the hierarchy of party laws and regulations and are subordinate only to the party’s constitution, are aimed at senior officials, particularly members of the Central Committee, Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee.
A version of the principles was formulated in 1980 during the Deng Xiaoping era to prevent a recurrence of the “extremely abnormal political life” of the Cultural Revolution.
Drafted by liberal-minded leader Hu Yaobang at the dawn of the reform era, the resolution spelled out its opposition to “rule by the voice of one man alone” or a “patriarchal system”.
It also encouraged internal democracy in the party and barred members from showing loyalty to any one person.
The new code would focus more on tightening control of power and centralising authority, analysts said.
“It will take a more authoritarian approach and emphasise toeing the central leadership’s line, not allowing the existence of opposing voices,” Chen Daoyin, an associate professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said.
Meanwhile, the proposed changes to regulations on party internal supervision are an effort to update rules first passed in 2003.
Zhuang Deshui, deputy director of Peking University’s Clean Government Centre, said the drafting of both documents would be “coordinated by the CCDI with relevant departments participating”.
Zhuang said passage of the two sets of regulations would signal that a largely complete institutional system for “strictly governing the party” – one of the four slogans hailed in Xi’s “four comprehensives” political theory – had been established.
“Lower-level regulations and rules will still be made afterwards, but not at such a high level any more,” he said.
“Wang has built a good overall framework for anti-corruption work. Even if he retires, his political legacy from his tenure at the CCDI should continue to apply.”
But Chen questioned how long the system or framework would hold after both Wang and Xi stepped down.
“Chinese politics has a tradition: when a man dies his administration will be cast away. Many internal laws and regulations of the party were set up after 1989 – one stricter than another – but as new leaders replaced the old, many rules were cast aside without any public announcement of their abolishment,” he said.
“China has not yet escaped the vicious cycle of strongman politics. When the next leader comes into power, if he lacks the power and strength of his predecessor, his authority will decline and the systems will no longer be effective,” he said.
Chen said the biggest problem of the party’s anti-graft system was its lack of external supervision and public involvement.