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A former Chinese official — with ties to other fallen political stars — went on trial Thursday on charges of bribery and abuse of power, amid suggestions by some China analysts that Beijing’s current anti-corruption campaign is a pretext to sideline the ruling administration’s perceived adversaries.
The Xianning City Intermediate People’s Court, in the central Chinese province of Hubei, published photos from the trial of former Deputy Communist Party Chief for southern Sichuan province Li Chuncheng to its account on Sina Weibo, a website often described as a Chinese version of Twitter. The government’s push to publicize such trials has been hailed by some as a move toward transparency, and derided by others as a return to the show trials of China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s.
Optimism is high among Chinese media and analysts that President Xi Jinping’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign is helping rid the country of graft that not only costs the People’s Republic a significant proportion of its gross domestic product, but also threatens to exacerbate public frustration with — and ultimately to upend — the country’s ruling political class.
But some China watchers have suggested in recent months that the anti-corruption campaign is merely a pretext for Xi to destroy what are thought to be his political adversaries.
Many of those adversaries have been linked to former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who is widely considered to be one of Xi’s political opponents. Li had been a close ally of former security chief Zhou Yongkang, who on April 3 was charged with crimes along the same lines as Li: bribery and abuse of power, as well as divulging state secrets. Zhou was known for having been in Jiang’s political circle.
Xu Caihou — formerly one of China’s top military leaders and another Jiang ally — was booted from the Communist Party amid allegations of graft in June 2014. Those charges were dropped after he died of bladder cancer in March 2015.
Gordon Chang, China analyst and author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” told Al Jazeera amid Xu’s ouster from the party “we haven’t seen any political ally of Xi Jinping betargeted in the anti-corruption campaign.”
Gao Wenqian, senior policy advisor with international advocacy group Human Rights in China, said after Xu’s ouster that more than ridding China of corrupt politicians, Beijing’s anti-graft investigations and trials are “faint echoes of the Cultural Revolution” — a poorly masked attempt to undo the top leadership’s intra-party enemies.
Gao added that the difference between modern-day and Cultural Revolution-era China is that under Chairman Mao Zedong, the founder of the ruling government, the flurry of accusations that destroyed the lives of many in China’s ruling class had spun out of control, largely because the public was also allowed — and encouraged — to point fingers at officials. Under the Xi administration, members of the general public who have engaged in any form of dissent, against local and national officials or otherwise, have been punished with jail time.