Chinese parliamentary sessions 2014

Li Keqiang not asked about Zhou Yongkang case, after reporters warned

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 12:27pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 5:56am

Premier Li Keqiang was not asked about the graft investigation into former security tsar Zhou Yongkang after reporters were warned against raising the subject.

Reporters were told they would be blacklisted and be unable to ask questions at future events if they asked the premier about Zhou.

We will show zero tolerance for corrupt officials or behaviour

Journalists, mostly from overseas media organisations, said officials had given the warning before the premier's annual press conference began. They said officials had told them it was still "too early" to broach the topic.

"We were told questions on economic issues and reform would raise the chance of being called [upon]," one reporter said. Most of the 15 questions asked yesterday dealt with foreign affairs and economic reform.

The premier touched on the issue of graft when asked whether the large number of investigations launched under the new leadership had exposed a flaw in Communist Party rule.

"We will show zero tolerance for corrupt officials or behaviour. No matter whom it is or how senior their position, any official who violates party discipline and law will be severely dealt with and punished to the full extent of the law," Li replied.

It would have been unusual for the premier to comment on Zhou's case at the press conference, because it is being overseen by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which is run by Wang Qishan and ultimately controlled by party general secretary Xi Jinping .

Expectations were, nevertheless, high because former premier Wen Jiabao had used the same occasion two years earlier to take some unusually blunt shots at Bo Xilai, who was then Chongqing party chief and a Politburo member.

Wen criticised Bo's policies and his handling of his former police chief Wang Lijun's attempted defection to a US consulate. Bo was sacked from his party posts the next day and was sentenced last year to life in prison for graft.

Earlier this month, an official hinted that an investigation into Zhou, a retired Politburo Standing Committee member, was under way.

At the news conference before the opening of the annual meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the nation's top political advisory body, spokesman Lu Xinhua said: "Anyone who violates party discipline and state law will be seriously investigated and punished." He added: "I can only say this much at the moment. You know what I'm saying."

The Post reported in August that current and retired party leaders had agreed at their summer meeting in Beidaihe , Hebei province, to investigate Zhou. The decision marked the end of the party's unwritten rule that current and former members of the Politburo Standing Committee were untouchable.

Zhou reached the zenith of his power in 2007, when he was given the ninth and final seat on the all-powerful standing committee. His position became precarious almost as soon as he retired in November 2012 and Xi, then newly appointed party general secretary, launched a campaign against official corruption.

As Zhou's friends, relatives and former associates were rounded up, it became clear the former security chief was a target as well. Those detained include his son, Zhou Bin, and Jiang Jiemin, his former top aide and ex-chairman of China's biggest oil company, China National Petroleum Corporation.