Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign

Mayor of southern Chinese boom town under investigation for corruption

Inquiry likely linked to Li Zezhong’s 11-year stint at scandal-plagued state firm, analyst says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 September, 2017, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 September, 2017, 11:28pm

The mayor of a southern Chinese boom town has come under investigation for corruption just six months into the job.

Guangdong’s anti-graft watchdog said on Saturday that Zhuhai mayor Li Zezhong, 47, was suspected of serious violations of Communist Party discipline and was under an internal investigation.

The watchdog’s brief online statement gave no further details of the case.

“Serious violations of party discipline” can refer to anything from corruption to political disloyalty, but officials tarred with it are usually charged with taking bribes.

Zhuhai, just north of Macau, is one of four special economic zones set up in China in the early 1980s as the country embraced the market economy and foreign investment.

Zhuhai is also one of 11 cities in the “Greater Bay Area”, a plan to integrate the economies of Hong Kong and nearby cities on the mainland.

Can China’s ‘Greater Bay Area’ match its New York and San Francisco counterparts? Much will depend on Beijing

The plan became a national strategy this year, with Premier Li Keqiang saying in his annual government work report in March that the mainland would draft a plan for the “development of a city cluster in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area”.

Li Zezhong was a vocal supporter of the strategy, saying in April that it would present more opportunities for Hong Kong and Zhuhai.

Originally from Anhui province, Li Zezhong took over as Zhuhai’s acting mayor in March and was formally given the top job in May.

Before that, he spent 11 years at state-owned Guangdong Rising Assets Management, which has been battered by a series of corruption scandals in recent years.

At least four of Li’s colleagues from the company, including a former board director, former general manager and former deputy manager, have been prosecuted for corruption, according to mainland media reports.

Li also worked briefly for the United Nations Development Programme and the World Health Organisation, after studying at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government.

Beihang University associate professor Tian Feilong, a specialist in Hong Kong affairs, said Li’s fall could undermine public confidence in the Greater Bay Area plan but the impact should be limited.

The great delusion that is the Greater Bay Area project holds nothing for Hong Kong

“The scandal will somewhat influence public confidence in development in the Pearl River Delta, but the impact won’t be great,” Tian said.

“He did not take part in key decision-making of the plan and has only spent a few months in Zhuhai. It’s likely that his problem is linked to his previous position.”

Peng Peng, vice-chairman of Guangdong-based South Nongovernmental Think-Tank, agreed.

“The Greater Bay Area plan is a national-level economic initiative involving the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau,” Peng said.

“[At that level], policymaking and implementation is the responsibility of Guangdong province and the National Development and Reform Commission, rather than the leader of a particular city in the Pearl River Delta.”