On January 24 Chinese President Xi Jinping launched yet another round of a large-scale anti-corruption and anti-gang campaign in the country, expanding it to the local level.
"According to the Chinese leadership, grassroots corruption harms the authority of the Communist Party and prevents the fulfillment of Xi's ambitious plan to completely eradicate poverty in the country by 2020," RIA Novosti political observer Vladimir Ardaev stresses, adding that reportedly Beijing aims to crack down on Chinese "triads" — secret and well-organized crime syndicates originating from ancient times.
Chinese Leadership Takes War on Corruption Quite Seriously
Commenting on anti-corruption struggle, The Diplomat emphasized the "seriousness" of the intention of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee and the State Council. A new document, released by the party, stresses the necessity to "harshly punish" officials acting as a "protective umbrella" for local gangs thus combining the fights against corruption and gangs at all levels.
"The document's title — 'Notification on carrying out a special struggle to clean up gang crime (literally, ‘black') and eliminate evil' — is unusually grim even by China's standards," the media outlet notes, adding that the Chinese authorities adopted the term "struggle" rather than referring to the campaign as a mere "operation."
"Now the authorities will go after for organized crime groups directly in the counties, and not just for their patrons in the capital," the researcher explained.
Chinese criminal groups are usually operating at the level of a county or a large city, but sometimes control part of a province, says Vasily Kashin, a senior research fellow with the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The country's mafia groups are focused on human trafficking, prostitution, illegal gambling, the production of counterfeits, smuggling, and to a lesser extent, drug trafficking, the academic said. Loan extortion and corporate raiding is also widespread, he added.
Triads: Chinese Clandestine Criminal Organizations
By the 17th century triads had evolved into "powerful criminal organizations, cemented by iron discipline, unquestioning obedience and impeccable conspiracy," the journalist noted.
"Triads still exist, although they have changed considerably," Syroezhkin suggested. "It's not always possible to prove their very existence since these secret communities are totally clandestine. They operate in China, Hong Kong, and also in other countries with a large Chinese diaspora."
For his part, Kashin specified that "real triads" were largely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong. Later, in the era of reforms, they re-emerged, using many of the attributes of the Chinese traditional crime groups. However, they are no longer genetically related to the old secretive conglomerates, he added.
Why Xi's War on Corruption Has Nothing to Do With Populism
According to Kashin, the war on corruption declared by the Chinese leadership has nothing to do with populism — it is an urgent need.
"When Xi Jinping came to power, the level of corruption in the country was simply unprecedented," the analyst told RIA Novosti. "Virtually any appointment or promotion could be bought. Even the army was engulfed in bribery. Any family of a major official owned a business empire worth billions of dollars."
The Western press has repeatedly criticized Xi for cracking down on his own political rivals under the guise of the anti-corruption campaign. For instance, The Diplomat draws parallels between the recently declared war on gangs and their backers and that of former senior CCP official Bo Xilai in Chongqing.
"A large number of China analysts and Chinese legal professionals later criticized Bo for taking advantage of that campaign to purge his own political rivals," The Diplomat noted.
However, Syroezhkin does not agree with this stance: Since Xi kicked off his anti-graft effort in 2012, those who have come into the crosshairs have been accused of specific corruption crimes.
"Although the political underpinnings of those high-profile cases were visible, especially given that those imprisoned were mainly the people from [Xi's] predecessor Jiang Zemin's entourage, there were no doubts that these officials were corrupt," the Russian scholar noted.
The academic emphasized that since the mid-1990s public executions in China have been legally banned, while death sentences are generally not used in corruption cases. He referred to the fact that high-ranking figures Zhou Yongkang and Bo Xilai got life sentences, and were certainly not shot. Kashin added that the shooting itself has been replaced by lethal injection in China.
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