Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign
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President Xi Jinping speaks with deputies from Inner Mongolia during the National People’s Congress in Beijing on March 5. Photo: Xinhua

China takes aim at corrupt cadres and officials in expanded Inner Mongolia campaign

  • Blitz on coal industry-related graft has gained new momentum after President Xi Jinping warned cases going back decades will be investigated
  • Analyst says the drive suggests Xi won’t let abuse of power in regions and provinces stand in the way of his ‘national rejuvenation’ plan

A campaign targeting corruption in the coal industry of Inner Mongolia has been expanded to cover all cadres and officials in the northern Chinese region, with investigations to go as far back as two decades.

The blitz on coal industry-related graft began about a year ago but gained new momentum this month when President Xi Jinping told Inner Mongolian deputies at the National People’s Congress that anyone found to be corrupt would be held to account.
“[We] will go after these people – who use our national resources for bribery, trade power for money by taking advantage of their positions as Communist Party officials and public servants – at all costs and hold them responsible,” Xi said at the annual session of the legislature, according to People’s Daily.
“The party central has waged an anti-corruption campaign for eight to nine years. [We] have shown zero tolerance for any new cases,” he said, referring to cases after 2012, the year he took the helm of the party. “Now, we also won’t tolerate the old cases [pre-2012] once they have been uncovered. Our anti-corruption campaign will never end.”
Vehicles work at an open-pit coal mine near Ordos. Inner Mongolia is China’s second largest coal-producing region. Photo: AP

Analysts said Xi was using the campaign in Inner Mongolia to strengthen the party’s control in the region. Inner Mongolia is the second largest coal producer in China and accounts for about a quarter of the country’s coal reserves, with output reaching 1 billion tonnes in 2019.

According to state media reports, some 676 corruption cases related to the region’s coal industry have been investigated since 2018, involving 960 cadres and officials.

They include Bai Xiangqun, former vice-chairman of Inner Mongolia’s government, and Xing Yun, its former head of public security.

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Xing, 69, was given a suspended death sentence in December 2019 for accepting 449 million yuan (US$69 million) in bribes after an investigation that began six years after he retired. His case led to more arrests – Yun Guangzhong, former party chief of Ordos and the region’s capital Hohhot, and Yun Gongmin, former general manager of state-owned power company China Huadian Corporation.

Bai and Yun Guangzhong have since been jailed for 16 and 14 years, respectively, while Yun Gongmin is expected to face trial soon.

Xing Yun, the former head of public security in Inner Mongolia, was given a suspended death sentence for taking US$69 million in bribes. Photo: Handout

Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London, said the expanded campaign suggested Xi would not allow lax discipline and abuse of power in regions like Inner Mongolia stand in the way of his “grand national rejuvenation” plan.

“The national rejuvenation objective cannot be achieved without a regional party apparatus doing exactly what the party central led by Xi requires,” Tsang said. “What better way than to apply the anti-corruption drive to clean up the party in Inner Mongolia and ensure they follow his instructions?”

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Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said he expected a similar purge in other regions and provinces.

“Large-scale clean-ups at the department, bureau and county levels are deemed necessary because Beijing knows these are the backbone of the Communist Party’s rule,” he said. “The campaign in Inner Mongolia might be seen as a model that can be applied in other provinces.”

Xi’s warning also showed he planned to hold officials “accountable for life”, according to a researcher from Peking University’s public policy research centre.

“Retirement and resignation means nothing now – the hunt for corruption is for life,” said the researcher, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to media.