Sun Zhengcai, one of China’s top Communist Party officials, is now under investigation for corruption, according to BBC News. Sun has been considered one of the fastest-rising political upstarts in the notoriously secretive government, so the announcement comes as a bit of a surprise. He was the Communist Party Secretary of Chongqing prior to the announcement, a position that came with a lot of prestige as Chongqing is one of China’s fastest emerging megacities.
The announcement came with the typical Chinese tight-lipped release — only one sentence that stated Sun was being investigated for “serious lack of discipline” — shorthand for suspected corruption. However, outsiders believe that the charges may not stem necessarily from anything Sun did, rather that it may be President Xi Jinping flexing his muscles.
“It’s a big show of force,” said Willy Lam, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “It shows how over the last five years, Xi has really built up his own faction while the others have been marginalized.”
The five years Lam refers to is a longstanding policy of Xi’s aimed at rooting out corrupt officials, with corruption ranging from abuse of power to being a threat to Xi. Sun’s status as a popular rising star within the party may have represented such a threat to Xi, as he was part of a faction of primarily younger party members who have not been blindly loyal to the president.
During the course of the probe, few, if any, leaders who are steadfast supporters of Xi have been caught in the dragnet. On the contrary, it has led to top-level positions being held only by those who he trusts and who do not represent a challenge to his authority. Case in point: Following Sun’s dismissal after the announcement, Chen Min’er, one of Xi’s proteges, was promoted to take over the secretary position at the megacity.
This particular position is one that carries more power than most. Chongqing is one of only four cities in China — the others being Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin — classified as direct control. This classification means that these four cities have equal footing with provinces politically, essentially being treated as provinces of their own in all but name.
Chongqing’s 30 million residents make it China’s largest metro area and also an economic powerhouse. Founded in 1997 as part of the massive Three Gorges Dam migration and construction, growth has been rapid. But with that growth has come a huge shift in politics in the region, as younger people have moved to the area in vast numbers seeking employment. The younger generation is less blindly loyal to the Communist Party in general and President Xi Jinping in particular.
It’s this upswell in disaffection with younger voters that has led to Sun’s popularity in the region. Seen as somebody who had their best interests in mind, whether or not they were in line with Beijing’s, his political future looked very bright.
Whether the temptation of running such a prosperous city proved too much to resist or if he was simply targeted by Xi to solidify his own power base is unknown, although most observers suspect it was more the latter than the former. In any case, this appears to have worked to Xi’s favor. His power has grown substantially with Chen’s appointment to the secretary position, and now all four of the direct-control cities lie in the hands of his supporters.
[Featured image by Mark Schiefelbein/AP Images]