China probes former associate of jailed security chief

Zhou Benshun speaking at a session of the National People's Congress in Beijing on March 7, 2015.
Zhou Benshun speaking at a session of the National People's Congress in Beijing on March 7, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) – A former senior associate of China’s jailed one-time security chief Zhou Yongkang is being investigated for suspected corruption, the government said on Friday (July 24), the latest official connected with Zhou to come under suspicion.  

In a brief statement, the ruling Communist Party’s anti-graft watchdog said that Zhou Benshun was suspected of“serious breaches of discipline and the law”, a euphemism for corruption.  

It provided no other details and it was not possible to reach him for comment.  

Zhou Benshun, who is not related to Zhou Yongkang despite sharing a family name, is currently the top official in the northern province of Hebei, which surrounds the capital Beijing and is the country’s most important steel producer.  

The Hebei city of Zhangjiakou is also bidding, along with Beijing, for the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, and Zhou Benshun has attended meetings of the bid committee. The bid committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

Zhou Benshun worked for five years under Zhou Yongkang in the Central Politics and Law Commission as its secretary general. He was moved to the party chief position in Hebei in 2013.  

Since assuming power in late 2012, President Xi Jinping, who doubles as party and military chief, has pursued a relentless campaign against deep-rooted corruption, vowing to go after powerful “tigers” as well as lowly “flies”.  

The biggest “tiger” snared so far is Zhou Yongkang, 72, who the government said last month had been jailed for life for bribery, leaking state secrets and abusing power following a closed-door trial in May.  

Many of Zhou Yongkang’s political allies, former aides or colleagues, including Jiang Jiemin, who had been the top regulator of state-owned enterprises, have been also been felled in the crackdown.  

Hebei, one of China’s most important provinces and its top steel producer, has been at the front of efforts to control Beijing’s notorious smog.  

In March, Zhou said his province was paying “a huge price”for the country’s war on pollution.  

Tougher anti-pollution measures and easing demand slowed growth Hebei to 6.5 per cent in 2014 from 7.7 per cent in the previous year.  

Hebei churns out nearly a quarter of China’s steel, but it is now bearing the brunt of a campaign aimed at easing dependence on heavy, polluting industries.  

Hebei has struggled to find alternative sources of economic growth and hopes a new state plan aimed at integrating the province’s economy with the cities of Beijing and Tianjin will help reduce its reliance on steel and coal.