Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The End of the Shanghai Gang?

The Los Angeles Times's Ching-Ching Ni reports that the head of Shanghai's Communist Party and protege of former President Jiang Zemin has been charged with corruption:
Chen Liangyu, who served as party secretary of Shanghai and as a member of Beijing's ruling Politburo, is the highest ranking official in more than a decade to be targeted in a campaign against corruption.

The investigation into Chen centered on the misuse of Shanghai's social security funds for illicit investments in real estate and other infrastructure projects, according to the New China News Agency. Chen is accused of shielding corrupt colleagues, and abusing his position to benefit family members...

...Analysts say Chen's downfall also appears to be part of a carefully orchestrated plan by President Hu Jintao to consolidate his power ahead of next year's party congress and to clip the ambitions of his predecessor's allies.

"The Jiang Zemin era is over, the Shanghai Gang is being dismantled," said Cheng Li, a China expert at the Brookings Institution.
Unlike deadly factional rivalries past, the slow-motion purge of Jiang Zemin's allies seems to have been acomplished as much through consensus as struggle:
Hu most likely consulted the 80-year-old Jiang and won his tacit agreement to sacrifice his protege and preserve his own legacy, Li said.

"Remember when he agreed to publish Jiang's biography last month and launched all those study sessions of Jiang Zemin thought?" Li said. "This is part of that deal."

In June, Beijing made a high-profile example out of one of its own. Liu Zhihua, a Beijing vice mayor who was overseeing construction for the 2008 Olympics, was fired on corruption charges. A succession of other leaders at the provincial level has also faced dismissal or jail.
Perhaps as important as consolidating power here is providing a high-profile example that Hu and his administration are serious about dealing with the corruption endemic to today's China in general and the CCP in particular. But whether a CCP without any political competition or watchdog other than its own interests and some tenuous notion of the Greater Good can actually rein in expressions of its unfettered power seems somewhat akin to asking an alcoholic to manage a liquor store and expecting the books to balance at the end of the month.

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