Jail terms, confessions and anti-graft TV ... how China ensures a trouble-free top Communist Party meeting

Trumpeting of anti-corruption activity designed to reinforce Xi Jinping’s authority and discourage discord, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 8:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 2:53pm

Eight disgraced senior party ­officials were thrown behind bars and more made high-profile ­confessions on state television in the Communist Party’s effort to build momentum for a key four-day meeting that ends on Thursday.

The sixth plenum – the Communist Party Central Committee’s most important meeting ahead of next year’s major leadership reshuffle – is focused on ­imposing stricter rules and codes of conduct on cadres, especially senior officials.

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Since the dates of the plenum were officially announced at a Politburo meeting in late September, the party has spared no effort in preparing the political and public atmosphere ahead of the meeting.

Analysts said such moves aimed to further establish President Xi Jinping’s authority and discourage any attempts by the meeting’s participants to challenge the consensus on plenum issues.

In the past three weeks, eight former ministerial-level officials have received prison sentences in quick succession. This is the most intense sentencing flurry of ­“tigers” – or high-ranking officials – since Xi launched his harsh anti-corruption campaign nearly four years ago.

“The sentencing in relatively major, influential cases like these is surely of political sensitivity and significance,” Chen Daoyin, a political scientist at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said.

“Therefore, completing the judicial process in cases of provincial-level officials at such a time is definitely not a coincidence, but an intentional arrangement for the sixth plenum, like offering a sacrifice before a battle.”

The eight officials were tried by different courts at different times, with former Guangzhou party chief Wan Qingliang the first to stand trial in December, and ­former Yunnan party boss Bai Enpei the most recent, in June.

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Zhuang Deshui, an anti-corruption expert at Peking University, said the sentencing spell was to clear obstacles for the sixth ­plenum, especially those from political opponents, to ensure the meeting proceeded smoothly.

“In particular, [it] can help consensus to be reached faster and better on important decisions that are controversial and avoid disputes,” he said.

“Although the central leadership has basically taken control of the political situation, disputes may still exist within the party on some specific political measures.”

Meanwhile, more fallen tigers, including some sentenced in recent weeks, have been repenting on state television since October 17 in an eight-part series on the anti-corruption campaign jointly produced by CCTV and the party’s top disciplinary watchdog.

The series, Always on the Road, aired daily, with the last part broadcast yesterday. It offered ­details of high-profile graft cases, including those of close aides or associates of some of the biggest cadres snared in the crackdown.

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Renmin University political scientist Zhang Ming said the broadcasts were meant to show the achievements of the anti-corruption crackdown and ­inspire awe in officials to cement Xi’s authority.

“Xi has been consolidating power all along, but it seems like so far his authority is not yet enough. He has not achieved many real political achievements and graft busting is probably one of the few – hence the high-profile display of the corruption crackdown results,” Zhang said.

Chen from the Shanghai ­University of Political Science and Law agreed. He said the series was aired with great fanfare to put ­psychological pressure on members of the Central Committee attending the plenum. “It has a deterrent effect,” he said.

During the plenum, the more than 300 full members and ­alternates of the Central Committee will consider two important party internal regulations – one lays out the guiding principles for political life within the party “under new circumstances” and the other is a revision to a trial ­regulation on internal supervision of the party.

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Both regulations have put ­senior officials in their crosshairs, with the principles for political life clearly stating that the main ­targets are Central Committee members, Politburo members and Politburo Standing Committee members – the groups to which participants of the plenum belong.

“There is no doubt the two ­regulations will be passed, but there must be quite some ­bargaining involved in the ­process, therefore some pressure is needed,” Chen said.