Even though the Chinese government had announced that its anti-corruption campaign will continue indiscriminately in 2015 with a strategy of “shock and awe,” many observers still believe that cracking down on Communist Party factions will be key to the anti-corruption campaign this year.
In early January, Chinese state media denounced the existence of factions within the party, a well-known fact, but one rarely discussed in public. The Xinhua News Agency for the first time publicly denounced the existence of the “Secretary Gang,” the “Petroleum Gang,” and the “Shanxi Gang,” suggesting cliques within the party have come to the point that they no longer can be concealed.
The Chinese Central Commission for Discipline also held a news conference this month to announce charges against Zhou Yongkang, the former senior Politburo member. It also discussed ongoing investigations against senior officials who are seen as proteges of Zhou.
Late last year, President Xi Jinping told a meeting of the Politburo that the party will not tolerate any cliques within its ranks. Major state-run headlines, meanwhile, proclaimed that the focus of this year's anti-corruption campaign will be combating internal party factions. Yang Jianli, founder of a U.S. based civil rights organization Citizen Power, pointed out the partisan polarization that is happening right now is not the same as previous episodes.
“There are many reasons that the Chinese state media denounced the existence of factions within the party. One of the reasons is that the CCP has no way to cover up a gang fight in this kind of information and Internet age, folklore is slowly turning out to be true,” he said.
“Xi Jinping has basically labeled those factions as a kind of interest group, as the root of corruption, rather than a party issue. However, he is essentially still targeting those who pose a threat to his authority, only he cannot admit the existence of the factions within the party, which would essentially challenge the reliability of the CCP."
Yang also named the other reason for the party’s recent moves. “It basically suggests that the internal threats have been resolved for Xi, especially those remaining threats that existed before Jiang Zemin left office. Those gangs can be detrimental to Xi’s authority; especially [because] some of them reached the supreme power of the CCP.”
He added that the anti-corruption campaign has already moved from attacking personal corruption to targeting internal factions and political rivals.
Chen Kuide, chief editor of China Observe, noted that Xi is more likely to control the power of the CCP against his rivals compared to his predecessor, Hu Jintao. He said it is normal to have factions.
“The first point is whether they have specific game rules, which means whether it follows the law. The second rule is whether it is transparent enough.”
Chen added that the third factor is justice.
Xi this month said his anti-corruption campaign should adhere to a full coverage and serious restriction to check corrupted officials. However, Chen said the anti-corruption campaign is rather selective, as Xi does not want to affect his own power base, which is the party’s “Princelings,” relatives of powerful members from the Communist Party’s first ruling generation.
“We all knew Li Peng’s family got involved in big corruption. His corruption reached into electricity and water conservancy, and no one was willing to challenge his excesses. This means that the next generation of the Communist party leaders, the so-called Princelings, was not included in his termination, except Xi’s adversary, Bo Xilai.”
Experts note that partisanship could also be beneficial, but only if it leads the party onto a democratic path.
But they caution that the existing factions are unlikely to lead to the formation of a pluralist political system because China is still lacking an open debate to accept different political ideas. Yang said the current situation leaves many party members with no choice “but stick with the CCP.”
Yuru Peng and Anqi Hu contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin Service.