China's anti-graft campaign: When several party chiefs in one city are probed

WHEN Chinese anti-graft officials announced recently that Mr Gao Jinsong was being investigated for corruption, the Communist Party chief for Kunming became part of an unwanted streak.

He was the city's third consecutive party boss to be probed and fired, after his predecessors were similarly hauled up and sacked. Besides Kunming, similar probes have taken place in other cities, according to Chinese media reports. Taiyuan in Shanxi province, Dexi in Jiangxi and Maoming in Guangdong have seen at least three current or former party chiefs probed or sacked.

What's behind the problem?

Dr Chen Gang, from the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, noted that the position of party secretary in a city is a powerful one that comes with potential opportunities to gain kickbacks. "The capital cities are especially prone to corruption," he told The Straits Times. "But even the smaller cities will have many infrastructure and construction projects that need approval from the top party leader."

Furthermore, in smaller cities or less developed provinces, politics are more likely to be dominated by one or two party factions, said Dr Willy Lam from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"If power is concentrated with one faction, promotions to key appointments tend to be given to people within the same faction. With the same network, when one person is investigated, it's likely that there will be a knock-on effect."

Observers said the phenomenon of numerous Communist Party chiefs from one city being probed could become more commonplace, particularly in the less developed provinces.

"The leadership would have tried to find someone clean, but this person can still be investigated for previous wrongdoings," said Dr Zhang Ming from Renmin University. "Unless you want to choose someone fresh out of university, it's hard to guarantee" a totally unblemished record.

What are the cases so far?

Kunming (Yunnan province)

Qiu He: In office from December 2007 to December 2011; investigated last month.

Zhang Tianxin: December 2011 to last July; sacked last July.

Gao Jinsong: from last August to this month; under probe this month.

Taiyuan (Shanxi province)

Hou Wujie: January 2000 to September 2001; found guilty of corruption in September 2006.

Shen Weichen: January 2006 to September 2010; investigated last April.

Chen Chuanping: September 2010 to last August; investigated last August.

Maoming (Guangdong)

Zhou Zhenhong: November 2002 to May 2007; probed in January 2012.

Luo Yinguo: April 2007 to February 2011; investigated in February 2011.

Liang Yimin: February 2013 to last November; investigated last October.

Dexing (Jiangxi)

Cheng Aiping: October 1997 to December 2000; found guilty of corruption in January 2009.

Wu Zuguo: December 2000 to June 2003; found guilty of graft in November 2003.

Xu Yuejin: June 2003 to December 2009; found guilty of graft in July 2011.

He Jin: May 2011 to last September; investigated last September.

Who could be targeted next?

Dr Lam said the central leadership may continue targeting more lower-level leaders, having already made a statement with several arrests of high-ranking officials in the past two years.

chengwee@sph.com.sg