The exercise of state authority is often — and meant to be — an awe-inspiring spectacle. Movie goers are familiar with the scene: thundering converging helicopters, SWAT vans with flashing lights closing in; armed men in Kevlar vests advancing in a stack with firearms at the ready. And if the perp is smart he’ll throw down his guns and hope Steve McGarrett is there to utter his trademark “book ’em Danno”. But imagine a police agency that makes the FBI or Scotland Yard look little league. The Shuanggui pronounced (SHWANG’-gwei) is the secret police of the Communist Party of China, otherwise known as the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection or CCDI. They don’t arrive with flashing lights and thumping rotors. They just show up and then they take you with them, often forever. And they’ve been hard at work arresting tens of thousands of Chinese communists, torturing them to extract confessions and otherwise rounding up anyone connected with Zhou Yongkang, recently the internal security chief of China and head of its oil industry; one of the most powerful men in China now headed for life imprisonment and secret death.
Li Qiang, the Communist Party boss of an eastern coastal city in China, was wrapping up a speech on corruption on the morning of September 17 when an ominous group of men appeared. The men were Communist Party graft investigators, sent from the powerful but opaque Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), tasked to look into allegations of graft in the party’s ranks. And they were waiting for Li. As he was about to leave, Li, the municipal party secretary of Lianyungang in Jiangsu province, was whisked away by the investigators. By afternoon, the CCDI had announced his detention under suspicion of “serious discipline violations” – party speak for graft. That was the last time the public saw Li. He is just one among almost 75,000 party members who have been investigated by the CCDI and its regional units since President Xi Jinping rose to power at the end of 2012.
Imagine reading in the papers that a person having the attributes of oil billionaire, Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder and General Hayden were suddenly arrested on charges of espionage. The English word “purge” probably conjures up images of Ex-lax among Western readers. But as the Washington Post notes, in China ‘purge’ connotes images of a high rise concrete building, surrounded by a seven foot security wall, off limits to everybody, with only an address number to suggest its purpose, with website “http://www.12388.gov.cn/”. The headquarters of the CCDI is where you go never to return. “In the middle of the building’s garden stands a 350-year-old locust tree. Visitors are often told it’s meant to symbolize the impartiality of justice.” Cynics say it really symbolizes “the guilty sitting in judgment of the guilty”. The Washington post recounts that “Lin Zhe, a professor at the Central Party School, an influential party institution, has visited the disciplinary detention center in Shanghai.
The rooms mostly looked normal, with all the expected facilities — bathroom, tables, sofa, she said in an interview. The only sign of the room’s true purpose was the soft rubber walls. They were installed because too many officials had previously tried to commit suicide by banging their heads against the wall, she said.”
The investigative process is simple. Once set on the trail the CCDI begins a “pre-investigation” of selected party members, gathers the evidence, shows the list of the doomed to the Party for approval, convenes a kangaroo court and disappear the targets. The New York Times has a tree diagram of Zhou Yongkang’s associates and relatives. Except for a relative living in California, Zhou’s relations are listed: “detained by authorities whereabouts unknown”. Everyone confesses, as the fate of someone whose real estate deal went bad exemplifies. Junior functionary Yu Qiyi was held in a tub of icy water by six investigators attempting to extract a confession. He drowned. However, his body bore the marks of numerous other attempts of persuasion. “Beat ’em Danno”. As the South China Morning Post notes, the current purge is the biggest since the days of the Gang of Four. It has a map showing where high and middle ranking officials have been arrested. It’s all over China and at all levels. The Long Knives are out and no one is safe.
For Bo Zhiyue, a veteran China politics watcher at the National University of Singapore, the anti-graft drive has taken on its own dynamic. “Lower-level governments are now competing to dig up corruption,” he said. “It’s like in the anti-rightist campaign of 1956, when they had to fulfill quotas,” Bo said, referring to the campaign waged against critics of Mao Zedong during the early years of the People’s Republic. “Nobody is sleeping well now,” he said. “There is a lot of uncertainty and there are no clear rules as to who gets investigated.”
Informers, who now have target numbers like salesmen, are scouring the party for victims to throw to the wolves and the process will continue until the purge-lust is sated. But there has been relatively little attention focused in the American media on a power struggle in what by some accounts is the most economically powerful country in the world. One of the most interesting charges against Zhou are allegations he has “leaked state secrets”. But to whom? Given Zhou’s background with the oil industry, the question of who he ‘leaked secrets’ to makes an interesting topic. But probably not to America. It doesn’t pay enough. The Center for a New American Security (one of whose principals Michelle Flournoy was being recruited to replace Chuck Hagel) argued that the central goal of China’s extensive cyberwarfare capability was to enforce internal security. China’s internal security budget is actually larger than its appropriations for national defense.
The CNAS report suggests that the Obama administration’s policy of seeking to counter widespread and damaging Chinese cyberattacks through promoting adherence to international norms and rules for behavior in cyberspace likely will be difficult. “China has been actively promoting a counter-narrative: Justifying stringent Internet controls through propaganda, denying involvement or accountability in cyber espionage, and accusing the United States of committing similar actions against China,” Harvard Professor Joseph S. Nye, stated in a foreword to the report.
The administration sees the world in terms of “international norms”, but the Chinese Communist Party sees the world as a threat to its power. The Chinese Communist Party’s biggest weakness — which some account to be its strength — is its totally amorality. Many Chinese commentators are shaken by the fact that Zhou, the head of internal security, the most powerful counterintelligence official in the country, could have betrayed China to foreign powers. Americans tend to think of high officials as above suspicion. But the Chinese may see in their leaders a simple list of the usual suspects. The mighty dragon has a weak spot in its belly, and it is internal dissension and treason. China knows this. Hence the Shuanggui. It recalls the defect in the mighty Smaug.
“My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!” … The dragon rolled over. “Look!” he said. “What do you say to that?” “Dazzlingly marvellous! Perfect! Flawless! Staggering!” exclaimed Bilbo aloud, but what he thought inside was: “Old fool! Why there is a large patch in the hollow of his left breast as bare as a snail out of its shell!”
What do you say to that? Nothing. You can say nothing if you don’t notice it.
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