Friday April 3, 2020


April 23, 2014

Since being placed under house arrest, authorities have seized assets worth at least 90 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) from family members and associates of Mr. Zhou.  Moreover, in the last four months, more than 300 of Zhou’s relatives, political allies, protégés, and staff have been taken into custody or questioned.

The sheer size of the asset seizures and the scale of the investigations into the people around Zhou make this corruption case unprecedented in modern China, exceeding the notorious case against former Central Politburo member Bo Xilai.  Thus it would appear that President Xi Jinping is tackling graft at the highest levels.

Some reports, however, argue that this case may also be driven in part by political retribution. Zhou angered President Xi by opposing the ouster of Bo Xilai, who was jailed for life in September for corruption and abuse of power.

Even by the cutthroat standards of Chinese politics, this is a bold move for President Xi.  The finances and assets of the families of senior leaders are among the deepest and most politically delicate secrets in China.  Whether to wipe out Zhou’s influence or send an unmistakable signal to the entire party elite, President Xi appears to be rewriting the rules on Chinese elite finances.

Officially, the Chinese leadership has remained quiet about the corruption investigation into Mr. Zhou and the detention of his immediate relatives.  Thus it appears that Mr. Xi’s ultimate intentions about how to handle the case remain a matter of speculation.  Some political analysts argue that a leader of Mr. Zhou’s status would not face an inquiry of this magnitude unless Mr. Xi regarded him as a direct threat to the consolidation of his power.  In other words, it is not so much his financial dealings that has landed him in this position, but rather because he fell from favor with Party leadership.

Another school of thought, however, argues that President Xi considers the enormous agglomeration of wealth by spouses, children, and siblings of top-ranking officials a threat to China’s stability because it encourages mercenary corruption and harms the Party’s image to the Chinese public.  Those advocates say Xi has pushed the Zhou investigation beyond traditional bounds to signal that the rules have changed and that top leaders will now be held responsible for the origins of their family’s wealth.

In a investigation conducted by the New York Times, three of Mr. Zhou’s relatives- a sister-in-law, a son, and the son’s mother in law- total financial holdings amount to roughly $160 million.  This amount does not include real estate value of overseas assets.  Even though, these assets make Mr. Zhou the third member of the nine-man Politburo Standing Committee that ruled China from 2007-2012 to have family members with documented wealth exceeding $150 million.

The risk for Mr. Xi in this approach is clear.  By holding China’s top leadership responsible for their family assets, Xi puts his own family’s finances in a vulnerable position.  In 2012 the New York Times reported that the relatives of Wen Jiabao, then the prime minister, controlled investments worth at least $2.7 billion.  Moreover, Bloomberg News linked hundreds of millions of dollars in assets to the extended family of Mr. Xi, who at the time, was China’s Vice President and leader in-waiting.  Since then, has been no indication that authorities have investigated the financial dealings of Mr. Wen’s or Mr. Xi’s relatives.

For additional coverage of Zhou Yongkang Corruption Case, please see the following news sources and commentary

Reuters- Exclusive: China seizes $14.5 billion assets from family, associates of ex-security chief

The New York TimesInvestigating Family’s Wealth, China’s Leader Signals a Change

China Digital TimesZhou Yongkang’s Riches: Real Threat to Xi Jinping?

Quartz- Why Xi Jinping may soon call a halt to his latest corruption crackdown-

Voice of America- China Corruption Case Against Zhou Yongkang Exposes Scale of Graft

The Diplomat The Coming Trial of Zhou Yongkang

Complied and edited by Madeline Fetterly