China's Premier Wen Jiabao on Monday issued a dire warning against rising corruption within the Communist Party of China (CPC), a malaise he described as “the most crucial threat” to its survival.
Mr. Wen told an anti-corruption meeting of the State Council, the Cabinet, that he had pledged to “improve the transparency of the Chinese government's operations and create more conditions for the public to supervise the government”, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. His comments came amid widening investigations into a political scandal in the municipality of Chongqing, whose party chief, Politburo member Bo Xilai, was removed earlier this month. Mr. Bo's sacking was tied to his obstruction of an investigation into corruption allegations targeting his family members, according a report circulated in recent days by Beijing officials among top government departments.
Chongqing officials told Reuters this week that Mr. Bo's removal had been enabled by He Guoqiang, a member of the powerful nine-member Politburo Standing Committee and the head of the CPC's Central Discipline Inspection Commission. Mr. He chaired Monday's meeting along with Mr. Wen.
Without directly referring to the controversy surrounding Mr. Bo, Mr. Wen said officials needed to come up with “a prompt response to the issues raised by the public and the media”.
In recent days, there has been public criticism over the lack of information about the dismissal of Mr. Bo, one of China's most popular politicians who rose to national prominence for his “Chongqing model” of governance which included a renewed focus on social welfare and reviving Mao-era “Red culture”. As yet, officials have not given a reason why he was removed, triggering speculation and wild rumours online.
“Cases should be carefully investigated and handled in accordance with the law while the result should be provided or made public,” Mr. Wen told the meeting. “Corruption is the most crucial threat to the ruling party,” he warned, adding that it could even “completely undermine the country's political foundations”.
Separately, British officials said they had asked China to reopen investigations into the death of British businessman Neil Haywood in Chongqing last year, amid reports that he had ties with Mr. Bo's family.
Chinese officials this week widened investigations targeting officials in Chongqing. The former police chief, Wang Lijun, who triggered the political scandal after seeking refuge at a U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on February 6 following a falling-out with Mr. Bo, is under investigation by Central authorities. It remains unclear whether Mr. Bo, who is still serving on the powerful 25-member Politburo, is also being investigated.
Beijing officials have said two other Chongqing officials with close ties to Mr. Wang, who had helped Mr. Bo launch a nationally-famous corruption crackdown in the south-western municipality, were also being investigated — a deputy police chief in Yubei district and another party official in Nanan district.
Mr. Bo's corruption campaign went after Chongqing's long-established mafia organisations, also bringing down some 1,500 officials. It did, however, also tread on the toes of many of his political rivals - including, some say, Mr. He Guoqiang, who earlier served as party chief in Chongqing - and was seen by his critics as a move aimed at raising his political profile. Corruption crackdowns in China are often used as a political tool to oust rivals.
Before his dismissal, Mr. Bo was seen as a frontrunner for a seat on the next nine-member Politburo Standing Committee which comes into power later this year, under a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that is now under renewed public attention following the political drama of recent weeks.