BEIJING—The long knives are out in the top spheres of China's Communist Party, as demonstrated by two recent cases of high-level officials ousted for "decadence."
An unusual spate of public accusations—some with lurid details of love nests and multiple mistresses—coincides with the removal of the two men and the firing of other mid-level party officials.
It may be a prelude to President Hu Jintao's efforts to consolidate his power.
The most recent case involves Adm. Wang Shouye, a former No. 2 in the navy, stripped of his military post for bribe taking and "moral decadence," according to a June 29 dispatch by the official Xinhua news agency.
Wang embezzled about $20 million "and had five mistresses," including two from People's Liberation Army departments that provide singers and dancers to entertain troops, according to the Website of the Guangming Daily, a state-owned newspaper.
"This shocking case reflects a series of problems in the armed forces," said the Web site commentary by Xiang Hong'ai, a soldier-turned-commentator.
In another recent case, Beijing Deputy Mayor Liu Zhihua was ousted June 11 for "degeneracy" and corruption. Liu oversaw the massive preparations for the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games. State-run media said Liu maintained a pleasure palace in Beijing's northern outskirts for romantic encounters, videotaping some of his sessions.
"In China, the issue of `decadence' is brought out when people have fallen afoul of the ruling regime for other reasons," said Allen Behm, a retired strategist for the Australian government who now is a private consultant in Canberra.
Among senior officials, having mistresses is not uncommon, he said, so the issue is raised "when it is necessary to find a humiliating way to remove them."
China has entered a period of intense jockeying within the government. President Hu is raising the volume on an anti-corruption campaign, aware that government graft erodes support for his rule.
Adding to disquiet among cadres is the pending realignment at next year's 17th Party Congress, when posts from lowly counties all the way to the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the apex of power, are up for grabs. The congress is held every five years. Some analysts say Hu may use the congress to curb the influence of loyalists to former President Jiang Zemin, including Vice President Zeng Qinghong, a Jiang protege.
"My own view is that this is the time when Hu actually gets to pick his own people," said David Zweig, a China watcher at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology.
Hu may be leveraging an anti-corruption campaign as a way to clean house.
"Cases of cadres abusing power for personal gains are frequently reported," Hu said last Friday in a nationally televised speech to several hundred party leaders.
The Xinhua state news agency, normally tight-lipped on cases of party corruption, has recently reported a rash of such cases. In the past week, it said a finance official in Anhui province and a land resources director in the Ningxia autonomous region had both been arrested.
Two judges in Shangxi province were also arrested, and a Wuhan city railway official was sentenced June 28 to eight years in jail for taking bribes, Xinhua said.
The case of Liu Zhihua, the sacked Beijing deputy mayor, continues to cause a stir, partly because of the scandalous allegations against him.
Senior officials sacked Liu after receiving "six hours of videotape of Mr. Liu's sex romps with his long-time mistress and other women," Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper reported Monday.
Political overtones surround the case. Liu is a one-time aide to former Beijing Mayor Jia Qinglin, a close ally to Jiang.
Whether other dismissals loom is unknown. Some observers say publicity around the current cases is aimed at restraining some party officials and halting abuse of power.
"Such public disgraces are always done to frighten everyone else," Behm said.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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