President Xi Jinping told top officials he was disregarding “life, death and reputation” to fight corruption in a terse speech signalling a possible dispute and doubts among party elites over the campaign.
An official mainland newspaper and a person familiar with the matter confirmed the president’s statement.
Xi was believed to have made the remark in a closed-door Politburo meeting on June 26, the details of which were publicly revealed only when the city newspaper Changbaishan Daily on Monday reported that local officials received instructions from the president.
”[I] had left life and death, as well as my personal reputation, out of consideration in the combat against corruption,” Xi said, according to Changbaishan city’s party chief, Li Wei.
Li said the top leadership’s remarks emphasised a sense of crisis, and some of the words were “shockingly” sharp and harsh. However, he did not provide more details.
"We have to take the responsibility since the party and the country had put their fate in our hands,” the president was reported to have said.
Xi said “the two armies of corruption and anti-corruption are in confrontation, and are in a stalemate”, according to Li, adding that the leadership vowed to see the anti-graft campaign to the very end.
The campaign launched by Xi against “tigers and flies” (high to low-ranking cadres) when he came to power has seen scores of officials, business associates and their families either jailed, investigated or sacked.
The latest victim of the campaign is former security tsar Zhou Yongkang, the highest-level official to be netted in a corruption probe so far.
The Changbaishan Daily also said that Xi urged graft busters to focus on four types of officials: those who are strongly opposed by the public; those who have not restrained themselves after the party’s 18th congress in 2012; younger cadres in key positions; and those who might potentially take on more important roles.
The daily’s article was soon deleted from the website as some internet operators said they received a gag order from propaganda authorities.
A person familiar with the president’s speech told the South China Morning Post earlier that Xi made the strongly worded speech to the Politburo to counter some critics and silence doubts against his anti-corruption campaign.
Xi warned the party elites that nothing would be off limits in his anti-graft drive, the person said.
The president also rebuked the “school of thought” that the relentless drive against errant officials would only plunge the country in chaos and that Xi, in the end, would “eat humble pie”.
According to the person, Xi retorted: “What is there to be scared of?”
Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Renmin University in Beiing, said the remarks showed the anti-corruption campaign had certainly threatened some interest groups in the upper echelons.
”The combat between Xi and the interest groups has been white-hot and Xi also realised that [it] is make or break,” he said.
Xi, in the same Politburo meeting, called on the party’s discipline investigators to inspect regions where he had worked, to prove that the campaign was not a political purge but was for the sake of the party’s future.
Both Shanghai and Zhejiang, in which Xi served as party chief, are included in the latest round of team inspections announced in July.
During the meeting in late June, Xi also urged leaders to learn from former premier Zhu Rongji, whose anti-corruption fight and economic reform earned praise.
Zhu, an outspoken politician, famously said in 1998: “Prepare 100 caskets and leave one for me. I’m ready to perish together in this fight if it brings the nation long-term economic stability and the public’s trust in our government.”