The latest high-level official to get taken down in China may be in trouble because of his political ties.
On Jan. 17, the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption agency announced that the deputy governor of Jiangxi Province, Li Yihuang, was being investigated for “seriously violating discipline.” The agency did not provide further details.
The 55-year-old official started his career in the metal industry, eventually landing at Jiangxi Copper, a company that mines and refines copper products. It made the 2017 global Fortune 500 list.
Within a decade, Li rose from assistant manager to becoming the chairman in 2010. Soon after, he entered the Party bureaucracy, becoming part of the Yingtan City Standing Committee in 2011. In 2013, he rose to the provincial deputy governor position. Li’s quick jump from corporate executive to top official is rather unusual.
Li is the fifth deputy governor to be taken down since the 19th National Congress, a major Party conclave held in October 2017 that saw Party leader Xi Jinping further consolidate his power. Since Xi became Party leader at the previous Party Congress in 2012, he has utilized an anti-corruption campaign to weed out political enemies, namely a faction of officials who owe their loyalty to former leader Jiang Zemin.
After the new year, the campaign’s momentum shows no sign slowing. Li’s connections to members of the Jiang faction may have played a major role in his downfall.
Zhou Xiaohui, a China political commentator at The Epoch Times, noted that the copper industry is a mainstay of the Jiangxi region. For Li to succeed at Jiangxi Copper, he had to curry favor with local officials, Zhou said.
One of them was Meng Jianzhu, who served as the provincial party secretary from 2001 to 2007. Meng, who eventually climbed to the position of China’s top security chief, is a known member of the Jiang faction, a group of officials who owe their political careers to Jiang Zemin’s patronage.
Meng would often visit the copper company on his rounds to survey and observe local businesses, and Li was the one who accompanied him.
After Meng, Su Rong succeeded him. Su is a trusted crony of Zeng Qinghong, former vice premier who ensured Jiang ruled from behind the scenes years after stepping down as Party leader. Su was party secretary at the same time that Li stepped up to the deputy governor position.
A political news account on WeChat, China’s popular instant messaging and social media platform, cited an insider at Jiangxi Copper, who said Li bribed Su with gold in order to score his post. Su himself was taken down for investigation by the anti-corruption agency in June 2014. His investigation implicated a dozen or so other Jiangxi officials.
Aside from Li’s politically inconvenient connections, Li was once criticized by the central authorities for bad leadership. In September 2017, the State Council sent out a notice about Li’s inability to handle a construction accident that occurred in Yichun City on Nov. 24, 2016. The building site for a cooling tower at an electric power plant collapsed, resulting in 74 worker deaths and two injuries. It was considered one of the most serious work-related accidents in recent memory.