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What Is Next for China's Anti-Corruption Campaign?


Zhou Yongkang, China's former domestic security chief, listens to his sentence in a court in Tianjin. This still image is taken from video provided by China Central Television and shot on June 11, 2015.

Zhou Yongkang, China's former domestic security chief, listens to his sentence in a court in Tianjin. This still image is taken from video provided by China Central Television and shot on June 11, 2015.

Recently, former Chinese security chief Zhou Yongkang was tried on corruption charges. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

Zhou Yongkang was once one of the most powerful officials in China’s government. In addition to his position as chief of public security, he served as head of the Communist party’s legal and political commission. He was also a member of the politburo standing committee, the party’s most-powerful decision-making agency.

David Kelly is the research director at China Policy, a research group in Beijing, the Chinese capital. He says many experts believed because Zhou Yongkang knew the party’s deepest secrets he would never be punished.

“How do you take down the former head of the, so to speak, KGB or the CIA? This is the guy who knows everything.”

Where will the anti-corruption campaign go next?

Because President Xi Jinping has successfully targeted such a powerful official, some believe he may seek to punish even former heads of the government, including Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. But other experts say there are already signs that the government may sharply reduce the strength of the campaign.

Kerry Brown is an author and the head of the China Studies Center at the University of Sydney, in Australia. He says the anti-corruption campaign is likely to continue. He believes it will target people like top aides to former Chinese leaders, but he doubts that former top officials will be tried.

“I don’t think that we will see an intensification, but I do think we will see a continuation and a very gradual lowering of the pressure.”

Mr. Brown says the anti-corruption campaign has been successful for Mr. Xi. He says strengthening it would not be politically useful.

In China, there are already signs of changes to the anti-corruption campaign. One day before Zhou Yongkang was sentenced to prison, the Communist Party-controlled People’s Daily newspaper published a report about the campaign. It said the party’s top investigating agency may change its approach to corruption.

The report said the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection had recently published documents on its website about the anti-corruption campaign. The documents said some investigators in the party may be using their powers illegally. They also said investigators should stop targeting top party officials. They said lower-level officials should be punished, but not harshly.

Closed trial makes future uncertain

Zhou Yongkang was the highest-ranking Communist party official ever to face charges. But his secret trial and the announcement of his sentence almost a month after the trial ended has confused people in China.

David Kelly says many believe the trial is a sign that the anti-corruption campaign is ending.

The heat is off, the political drama that was escalating of resistance to any more of the higher-level purges. The political side of the campaign is ebbing, but on the other hand some more public moves will be made.”

Zhang Ming is a political scientist at Renmin University in Beijing. He says because the trial was closed, and because Zhou Yongkang was not given either a very strong or a very light sentence, people are uncertain about what will happen next.

Zhang Ming says he believes the trial was closed because it included secrets that Chinese officials did not want to release.

He says because nothing is known about the trial, it is difficult for observers and officials to predict what will happen to the anti-corruption campaign. He says it is difficult to know if it is ending or for officials to know if they will be targeted.

I’m Jim Tedder.

Correspondent Bill Ide reported this story from Beijing. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

take down – v. (informal; idiomatic) to humble or humiliate, often a powerful person; to lower someone’s arrogance or self-esteem

KGB – n. main security agency for the Soviet Union

CIA – n. US government intelligence agency

intensification – n. to become stronger or more extreme; to become more intense

gradual – adj. moving or changing in small amounts; happening in a slow way over a long period of time

approach – n. a way of dealing with something; a way of doing or thinking about something

the heat is off – idiom to stop people criticizing or attacking someone; to relieve the pressure on someone or something

drama – n. a situation or series of events that is exciting and that affects people’s emotions

escalate – v. to become worse or to make (something) worse or more severe

purge – n. the often violent and sudden removal of people from an area, country or organization

ebb – v. decline; weaken

on the other hand – idiom a phrase that introduces an alternate view or opinion

Does your country punish corrupt public officials? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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