He was once the third-most powerful man in China and described in the western press as the “Dick Cheney” of the People’s Republic, as Isaac Stone Fish explained to us in a radio interview yesterday. Now, Zhou Yongkang – along with some of his relatives and many of his former associates – are in a whole heap of trouble. As Stone Fish mentions in his Foreign Policy piece, the former head of China’s domestic security likely finds himself facing something known as shuanggui – “Chinese Communist Party-speak for an internal investigation against its own members — a process that usually involves lengthy detention and intense interrogation without any due process or legal representation.”
After the official announcement about the investigation of Zhou on Tuesday, the AP posted some quick vox, i.e. clips from ‘people on the street’ interviews, from Beijing. All of them welcomed the fact that Zhou was being held on corruption charges, echoing the rationale given by state-run media that the news would send a message through the halls of power. “Of course it is good news,” a man identified as Yang Shangyi said. “Those corrupt officials, no matter how senior their titles are, they must be pulled down.”
Writing at the FT, China expert Minxin Pei says President Xi Jinping seeks to accomplish a few different objectives by taking down Zhou.
To the Chinese people, Mr Xi hopes to offer reassurance that he is working hard to cleanse the rot inside the party. To his rivals, the downfall of Mr Zhou sends a clear warning: jail awaits those daring to challenge my authority (Mr Zhou is an ally of the now-disgraced former Politburo member Bo Xilai, Mr Xi’s adversary during the leadership transition). To everyone else, Mr Xi shows that he is now unquestionably the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping.