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Former China Security Chief, Zhou Yongkang, Under Investigation

Former China's Politburo Standing Committee Member Zhou Yongkang attends the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing March 14, 2012. China's senior leadership has agreed to open a corruption investigation.
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Reuters and several Chinese language sources are reporting that one of the most powerful Chinese leaders is undergoing investigations for corruption by the ruling Communist Party.

As a standing member of the powerful nine member Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang is the highest ranking official to be caught in a corruption probe in the history of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule of China. Zhou retired last year as head of the powerful party body that oversees the police force, domestic intelligence, judges, prosecutors, and paramilitary police.

Reuters reports that a source with ties to the leadership stated that, “Zhou Yongkang's freedom has been restricted. His movements have been monitored,” adding that Zhou cannot leave his house or receive people without advance notice.

Sanctioning the investigation of Zhou and the recent prosecution of Bo Xilai follow President Xi Jinping’s vow to clean up the Party by fighting corruption, and may be an indication of Xi’s confidence and his success in having consolidated sufficient power to take on all possible consequences from taking down the former security chief who is believed to be closely connected to Jiang Zemin.

Zhou rose to political power first as a party boss in Sichuan province and then on the national stage from a background in the oil industry where he climbed the ranks to become general manager of China National Petroleum Corp. Recent months have seen several of Zhou’s former associates in the oil and gas industries investigated for “serious discipline violations”, as well as former political affiliates such as Li Chuncheng, deputy party boss of Sichuan.

Chinese language websites are reporting that that Zhou’s investigation would focus on his time in Sichuan province and at the China National Petroleum Corp. Zhou’s eldest son, Zhou Bin, who played an active role in facilitating many of the oilfield and property deals has recently been called back to China from the US where he holds permanent resident status, to ‘aid’ in the investigations of former managers and close associates of his father in the oil industry. The South China Morning Post has observed that it is standard practice for the CCP to investigate and prosecute close associates and underlings of a higher ranking official in order to weaken his powerbase before formally investigating the official himself.

Links to Tibet

Zhou was responsible within the Chinese Communist Party for “maintaining stability” and had a direct connection to Tibet after serving on the Central Tibet Work Coordination Working Group between 2002 and 2007 while he was Minister for Public Security. Zhou was also Party Secretary of Sichuan province from 1999 through 2002, a province that includes large parts of the eastern Tibetan region of Kham, at the time of the sentencing to death of a charismatic and influential Tibetan lama, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche (the sentence was later commuted to life). Overseas human rights groups and United Nations human rights experts protested that the case against him was seriously flawed, that he did not receive a fair trial, and was mistreated in detention. As Party boss in Sichuan, he also oversaw the forced dismantling and reduction in size of two important monastic encampments, including the expulsion of thousands monks, nuns and Chinese Buddhists, that had played a pioneering role in the revival of Tibetan Buddhism following the Cultural Revolution.

Zhou’s tenure in Sichuan saw a continuing ratcheting up of security controls in Tibetan areas, the ready use of security forces in dealing with almost any social and cultural problems, and the targeting for mistreatment of influential Tibetan religious and cultural figures. Kirti Rinpoche, the exiled head religious leader of the biggest monastery in Ngaba county that has seen the largest number of self-immolations since 2009, told VOA that the immolation protests are not because of a single crackdown or a single restriction on liberties, but due to many years of repression, humiliation, and cruelty suffered by Tibetans in general, and more specifically Tibetans in Sichuan.

In 2005, as one of the highest ranking Chinese officials to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region in several years, Zhou gave speeches that blamed the Dalai Lama for all the unrest and discontent in Tibet, and for inciting separatism. This was the clearest indication that an official of Zhou’s high standing in the CCP was behind the local party bosses and the United Front Work, in pursuing policies in Tibet that critics say relied only on two things: security and infrastructure development. It is unclear at the moment how much impact Zhou’s stated views on Tibet and the Dalai Lama may have hampered any progress being made in the talks between Beijing and the Dalai Lama over the last 10 years.

Zhou was last reported in state media as having been among other party leaders who had offered condolences and flowers at a funeral service in Beijing on November 26. Some overseas and Hong Kong Chinese media had reported on Zhou’s investigation and possible arrest as far back as August, with even CCTV News tweeting and then deleting on December 3 that, “President Xi Jinping has set up a special unit to investigate corruption allegations against the retired leader Zhou Yongkang.”

Sources have told Reuters that it is not a matter of whether Zhou Yongkang has fallen from grace, but how far he will drop and how wide of an impact it will have on the 80 million member communist party’s rule of China.