News / Asia

China's Ex-Security Chief Helping Probe, not Target

Former China Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang, (File photo).Former China Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang, (File photo).
x
Former China Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang, (File photo).
Former China Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang, (File photo).
Reuters

China's former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, one of the country's most powerful politicians of the last decade, is helping authorities in a corruption probe and, contrary to media reports, is not currently the target of the investigation, sources told Reuters.
 

The investigation could take weeks, maybe months, to complete. Even if Zhou is implicated, he is unlikely to follow in the footsteps of disgraced ally Bo Xilai and face prosecution, said the sources, who have ties to the leadership or direct knowledge of the matter.
 

The scandal involving Bo, who is awaiting the verdict of a trial that concluded last week on charges of corruption and abuse of power, and the rumours surrounding Zhou are the most serious convulsions within the ruling Communist Party in decades. The probe Zhou is helping in has already reached deep into China's state-owned oil companies and several senior executives are being investigated for graft.
 

President Xi Jinping, who formally took power in March, has vowed strong action against corruption, but he may not yet be powerful enough to take on Zhou, who still wields political clout through proteges he had promoted into key positions.
 

Any action against Zhou may only be considered after the party's elite 200-member Central Committee meets at a plenum in November, the sources said. Xi will need unstinted support at the meeting, where he is likely to present wide-ranging reforms to rebalance the economy.
 

"Zhou has not been 'shuang gui'," one source told Reuters, referring to a form of internal investigation in which a suspect is required to confess within a prescribed time and place.
 

"He was merely asked to assist with the corruption investigation," the source said. All three sources declined to elaborate when asked if the probe involved Zhou's family members or allies at state oil giant China National Petroleum Corp, of which he was president in the 1990s.


"Unlike Bo, Zhou is unlikely to be arrested or put on trial" even if he is implicated in the probe, the source added.


Media reports that Zhou was being investigated came after inquiries into at least eight allies linked to him, including the country's top regulator of major state-owned enterprises who has been sacked for an unspecified "serious breach of discipline".

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported last week that Zhou was facing a corruption probe. U.S.-based China-watching news site Duowei said earlier Zhou was under investigation for graft but later withdrew the report for unknown reasons.


While dismissing the reports, the sources said the investigations of his allies did appear aimed at marginalising Zhou, 70, who retired as security tsar and from the Communist Party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee during a sweeping leadership reshuffle last November.


"Whether they will touch Zhou Yongkang or not is another matter, but that message is already very clear - it's undermining one of the most important vested interest groups," said Cheng Li, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.


Unwritten rule scrapped


In a landmark move earlier this year, the Communist Party scrapped a decades-old unwritten rule that exempts incumbent and retired Standing Committee members from investigation for corruption, the sources said.


The party can now open an investigation into purported evidence provided by a named - not anonymous - whistleblower against a sitting or former Standing Committee member, the sources said, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions for discussing secretive and sensitive elite politics.


But any decision by Xi to proceed to the next step - prosecution - still needs the approval of the incumbent Standing Committee, the sources said, adding that senior retired leaders would also need to be consulted.


"Xi cannot unilaterally decide to arrest Zhou. It would need the approval of the Standing Committee as well as party elders," a second source said.


Any move against Zhou would be unprecedented since no sitting or retired Standing Committee member has been jailed for economic crimes since the Communists swept to power in 1949.


"The political risks are too high," the second source said. "Retired Standing Committee members would be smashing their (collective) foot with a rock if they agree to prosecute one of their own. Any one of them could be next."


Zhou could not be reached for comment and the party's anti-corruption watchdog did not answer telephone calls. The State Council Information Office, or cabinet spokesman's office which doubles as the party spokesman's office, did not respond to requests for comment. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said questions on Zhou were outside his remit.


The sources said Zhou's movements have not been restricted, but, in any case, travel outside Beijing by any retired Standing Committee member needs the approval of the incumbent Standing Committee.


As domestic security tsar, Zhou oversaw the nation's police force, paramilitary People's Armed Police, prosecutors, judges and the civilian intelligence apparatus. During his watch, government spending on domestic security exceeded the budgets for defence, health care or education.


"Zhou was ranked ninth in the [previous] Standing Committee, but he wielded power second only to Hu Jintao in the security realm," another source said, referring to the former president, Xi's immediate predecessor.
 

"If Xi arrests Zhou, it would upset the balance of power at the top," the source said. "Xi sees the political risks. If he makes too many enemies, he could find himself in trouble."


Xi, who is also party and military chief, has pledged to go after "tigers" and "flies" in the battle against corruption, referring to political heavyweights and lightweights.

But Xi is still consolidating power less than a year into the job.


Zhou had recommended that Bo succeed him as domestic security chief before the latter's dramatic downfall last year, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the matter or ties to the leadership have said.


Bo fell from grace after his police chief, Wang Lijun, sought political asylum at a U.S. consulate and implicated Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, in the murder of a British businessman. Wang and Gu have been meted suspended death sentences which are likely to be commuted to life imprisonment.


When Zhou stepped down along with most members of the Standing Committee at the 18th Party congress last November, the role of domestic security tsar was downgraded, reflecting leadership fears that the position had become too powerful.

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid