There is a new sheriff in town who will be feared and loathed in equal measure. Last week, Yang Xiaodu was named in the honor roll of senior ministers at the National People’s Congress in Beijing.
At 64, he will take control of the National Supervisory Commission, the new anti-corruption agency, which will have sweeping, and even draconian, powers, analysts and human rights campaigners have warned.
As the head of this controversial body, Yang’s sphere of influence will extend the reach of the Communist Party’s internal disciplinary watchdog to oversee an array of State and public-sector institutions and companies.
China’s new ‘Big Brother’ will be able to take action against high-ranking officials and managers at government-controlled schools, hospitals, media organizations and companies, even if they are not card-carrying members of the CCP.
“The Supervision Law is a systemic threat to human rights in China,” Nicholas Bequelin, the East Asia Regional Director of Amnesty International, said. “It places tens of millions of people at the mercy of a secretive and virtually unaccountable system that is above the law.
“It by-passes judicial institutions by establishing a parallel system solely run by the Chinese Communist Party with no outside checks and balances,” he added.
Significantly, the day-to-day running of the National Supervisory Commission, which replaces the more aptly-named Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, will be in Yang’s hands. But behind the scenes, the strings will be pulled by President Xi Jinping and his Vice-President Wang Qishan.
Yang has worked with both of them as a senior CCP bureaucrat. He was in Shanghai when President Xi was the city’s Party boss and was also No.2 to Wang when he ran the old anti-corruption agency.
After Zhao Leji came in to replace Wang, he stayed on as the deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
Theoretically, Yang will still have to pay lip-service to Zhao, who outranks him in the party pecking order. But his real “boss” will be President Xi, whose anti-corruption drive is at the heart of Beijing’s policy.
“That is why he was offered the top job,” Wang Kun-yi, a professor at Tamkang University in Taipei, told the Voice of America.
Born in Shanghai in 1953, Yang joined the Communist Party in 1973 before studying at the Shanghai Chinese Medicine College between 1974 to 1976. From 2012 to 2013, he was the secretary of the CPC Shanghai Municipal Discipline Inspection Committee before working for Wang.
In an editorial in the Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, Yang stressed that a single department coordinating investigations into corruption was necessary to “prevent political in-fighting.”
“There is overlap between Party and State institutions, overlap in responsibilities and an unreasonable separation of powers between the central and local agencies,” he said. “If these issues are not solved now, they will certainly obstruct the development of the Party and country.”
Under the old anti-corruption commission, up to 1.5 million officials were purged in a nationwide crackdown during the past five years. Many were considered opponents of President Xi, who has packed his inner cabinet with key allies such as Wang and economic adviser Liu He, the new vice-premier.
“It’s a one-party system, so if the party tolerates corruption, then the party is corrupt,” Einar Tangen, a political commentator, told CCTV. “Therefore, there can be zero corruption – this is not like the [United States] or other democracies where you say I’m going to vote for [your competitor] and there’s a pressure release valve,” he added.
Still, human rights groups are concerned that the National Supervisory Commission will have more clout than the courts and will be used by President Xi to strengthen his grip on the world’s second-largest economy, and its major public and private companies.
“In the past few years, Xi has shown no mercy in suppressing the private sector as he consolidates his power,” said Teng Biao, a human rights lawyer and a visiting fellow at New York University.
“Political leaders, bureaucrats, business figures and their employees, prosecutors, judges, legislators, professors and especially lawyers have good reason to fear they may be the next victims of a plainly arbitrary system,” he told the Financial Times.
His view was echoed by Bequelin, of Amnesty International. He pointed out that “under the new system,” it allows for arbitrary and prolonged incommunicado detention without any meaningful oversight, which increases the risks of “forced ‘confessions.”
By casting an even wider net, Beijing could virtually hold “anyone working directly or indirectly” for the government.
In turn, these would include judges, academics and staff of State-owned enterprises. “[They] could all face up to six months detention without charge or legal process, and without guaranteed access to lawyers or their families being told,” Bequelin said.
Naturally, Yang offered a different scenario. In November during the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, he warned that failure to root out corruption could result in a “change of color for the red country.”
Talking to the State-owned People’s Daily, he was blunt about what was needed to be done and how the Party should do it after failing to crack down on the problem during “previous” administrations.
“It had developed to the point where if not rectified, the country could change color,” Yang said in an opinion piece for the official organ of the CCP. “The future fate of the Party and the country’s people could follow the same old road to ruin as the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. There is no road for retreat, only forward in attack, and definitely no pause [to] relax,” he added.
With rhetoric like that, China’s ‘new sheriff’ looks ready to pin on his badge and start running the bad guys out of ‘Dodge.’ For human rights campaigners, the fear is they will really be the ‘good guys.’