China probes rural minister Tang Renjian for ‘serious violations’

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Authorities in China investigate Tang Renjian, minister for agriculture and rural affairs, for “serious violations of discipline and law,” the latest in a string of high-ranking officials to be targeted by Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, according to the ruling Communist Party’s disciplinary arm.
Tang is “under investigation by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection for serious violations of discipline and law,” a May 18 announcement on the commission’s website said, without further details.
The secretive commission has broad-ranging powers to investigate the doings of party members while holding them for months in incommunicado detention, and to work alongside law enforcement if it deems a case worthy of criminal proceedings.
The announcement came just three days after Tang appeared at the National Rural Talent Work Conference in the northern province of Shaanxi, state-backed media The Paper reported on Saturday in an article headlined “Tiger-hunting at the weekend,” a reference to Xi’s vow to go after high-ranking corrupt officials, the “tigers,” as well as lower-ranking “flies.”
His photo had been removed from the list of high-ranking ministry personnel on the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs official website on Monday.
Tang is the latest in a string of high-ranking Chinese officials to be placed under investigation in recent weeks, following the announcement of similar probes into former Beijing vice mayor Gao Peng, former vice minister for justice Liu Zhiqiang and former Minister of Justice Tang Yijun on April 2.
In March, the Commission announced a similar probe into Liu Yuejin, former commissioner for counterterrorism at the Ministry of Public Security.
‘Tigers and flies’
Last October, Xi Jinping called on leaders at all levels of the party to “be brave enough to struggle” as part of efforts to boost ideological unity, and many commentators regard his anti-corruption campaign as a tool to deal with political rivals.
When he came to power in 2012, Xi relied on his trademark “tigers and flies” anti-corruption campaigns to bring down his political rivals and generate “struggle” within party ranks.
Chongqing-born Tang Renjian, 61, is a senior economist who had previously served as governor of Gansu province, and who had been carrying out research in Shaanxi at the time of the announcement.
He had come under fire during his tenure for the “forest to farmland” campaign that cleared mountainous land to grow rice. A similar campaign was blamed for the demolition of a belt of parks and green spaces around the Sichuan provincial capital, Chengdu, last year.
A retired civil servant from Gansu who asked to be identified only by his surname Zhao for fear of reprisals said Tang hadn’t distinguished himself particularly while in the province, citing the “forests to farmland” campaign.
“His agricultural policies during his tenure weren’t much to write home about,” Zhao said. “He was an official who came out of the Ministry of Agriculture.”
“He wanted to grow rice in mountainous regions, then it was making farmland from forests,” he said. “Then that was all reversed after a while, because he wanted to set up an agricultural management system.”
Last year, China’s official propaganda machine sprang into action to soothe public anger amid reports that local “agricultural management” officials threatened to uproot backyard fruit and vegetable plots as part of a rural “beautification” campaign.
It was unclear whether Tang’s political actions were connected to the investigation against him
Rife with corruption
Veteran current affairs commentator Cai Shenkun said Tang Renjian was a technocrat protege of retired former Vice Premier and economic tsar Liu He.
“Judging from the latter part of his resume, he had a good relationship with Liu He because he was appointed as deputy director of the Central Finance Office when Liu He was director,” Cai said, adding that he could be being investigated as part of the case against his former boss.
According to estimates from the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, corruption is so widespread throughout party and government ranks as to provide rich pickings for anyone looking for a good reason to bring down a powerful official.
Recent research published by the bureau suggests that at least 65% of Chinese officials at bureau level and above are involved in some form of corrupt dealings.
Last year, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection launched investigations into 87 mid-level officials, according to the Commission’s annual work report to the National People’s Congress earlier this year.
Nationwide, disciplinary and supervisory authorities filed 626,000 cases for investigation, detained 26,000 individuals, and imposed the Party disciplinary or administrative punishment on 610,000 people.
In addition, 1,624 fugitives were repatriated through the SkyNet overseas surveillance scheme, it said.

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