Beijing (AsiaNews) - As of yesterday an official investigation has begun into former security chief and a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang. The very sober news was reported by Xinhua, but has been picked up by global media and also in China: the Communist Party press were told to tone down coverage in its editions, but on Weibo (the Chinese Twitter), the news spread like wildfire with millions of tweets. The fact is already important in itself because until yesterday any online search for the name "Zhou Yongkang" gave no results. Today the news is available, although not all public comments are visible.
The case of Zhou,
who retired from the Politburo in 2012, will be in the hands of the Communist Central Commission for
Discipline Inspection. So far
we know that he is under investigation for "serious disciplinary
violations", a euphemism for "corruption."
Not since the days of Mao Zedong has a high ranking member of the Politburo been indicted and this probe has broken a taboo the intestinal power struggles must not affect the unity of the Politburo, which is the very symbol of Party unity.
Rumors that Zhou would be investigated have circulated since last August, after the trial of the former chief of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, a protege and after the anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping, in which he promised to target "tigers and flies".
Born in 1942, Zhou joined the Party in 1964 and studied at
Beijing Institute of Petroleum (later the Chinese university of petroleum). He
entered the energy industry and in the 1990s became head of the China National
Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), the all-powerful state energy industry.
In recent months, many of Zhou's friends and secretaries have been placed under investigation. They include family members -his brother, son, daughter-in-law sister-in-law, ... - implicated in the network of contacts and backhanders related to the energy world.
In 2002, Zhou joined the Politburo as minister of security.
Under his leadership this ministry had a higher annual budget than defense,
strengthening the controls on society, expanding the police, giving them the power
to imprison dissidents, religious figures, petitioners, villagers who fought land
seizures without trial, besieging villages and firing on the crowds.
The question that many Chinese do today is whether there will be a public trial against Zhou and if the victims of his corruption - farmers, dissidents, religious workers - justice may require.
According to several observers, this element will determine
whether Xi's campaign against "tigers and flies" is just a power
struggle within the Party or if it is to uphold justice in society.
Yesterday, after announcing the probe into Zhou, the leadership announced a key meeting for all party elite to be held in October to decide policy direction. President Xi said yesterday the rule of law would top the agenda at this meeting, the fourth plenary of the 18th Party Congress.
According to an investigation by the New York Times, the family of Zhou Yongkang has assests worth at least one billion dollars. In all likelihood, the Party investigation will reveal a network of favors, collusion, abuse of power and silences that led to this wealth.
What remains incomprehensible however, is members of civil society who have long denounced these abuses and often requested that Party members disclose their assets - first and foremost Xu Zhiyong - have ended up in prison for "attacks against State order".