It’s official: there is no government posting more inauspicious than that of Kunming Communist Party Secretary.
On April 10, the Yunnan discipline inspection commission announced that current Kunming party chief Gao Jinsong (高劲松) is being investigated for “serious violations of party discipline and law,” official jargon for corruption. He had served as the Yunnan provincial capital’s party chief for less than eight months.
Gao, 51, is the third consecutive Kunming party chief to have fallen victim to President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. His predecessor, Zhang Tianxin (张田欣) was forced to step down in July 2014 and Qiu He (仇和), who held the post from 2011-2014 was investigated just last month.
Before assuming his post in Kunming, Gao Jinsong was the Communist Party secretary of Yunnan’s Qujing prefecture from 2012 to 2014. Along with Kunming party secretary, Gao was also party secretary of the city’s garrison command. He was not, however a member of Yunnan’s standing committee, the top level of party leadership in the province.
According to a report by Caixin, Gao’s investigation is linked to the case against Bai Enpei (白恩培). The former Yunnan provincial party secretary, Bai was investigated for corruption and in August 2014. Gao reportedly gave Bai Enpei millions of yuan in bribes. “Bai and his wife confessed … regarding the bribes they took, which implicated many officials currently in office,” Caixin cited an anonymous Yunnan official as saying.
Gao’s investigation marks a new direction for the current anti-corruption drive. When Gao was announced as the replacement for the disgraced Zhang Tianxin in August 2014, many locals thought him to be a safe choice. It was assumed that the central government had properly vetted him and that his term as party secretary would last longer than eight months. It’s obvious now that something went wrong.
It is certainly possible that Gao’s investigation is directly related to the Bai Enpei case. However, the investigations and court proceedings in official corruption cases are done behind closed doors, the details of which are only released through state-run media.
Indeed, it would make sense that Gao Jinsong had corrupt dealings with Bai Enpei. Bai, who was the provincial secretary from 2001 to 2011, was a kingmaker of Yunnan’s party leadership and Gao’s political rise coincided with Bai’s tenure.
Regardless of the exact details of Gao’s case, what is becoming clearer with each disgraced official is that the central government is displeased with Yunnan. It is a troubling new face of the province’s relationship with Beijing.
In the early 2000’s provincial leaders took pride in their appointment to serve as China’s chief representatives for carrying out the country’s economic policies and cooperation initiatives with neighboring Southeast Asia. Now the Yunnan provincial leadership’s role is tarnished and uncertain.
In an action plan for China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative revealed last month at the Bo’ao Forum, Yunnan province was not listed as a key province despite its geographic significance in the current and future development of the South Silk Road. Furthermore, the future of Luosiwan International Trade City, which acts as a logistics hub for all Chinese goods travelling overland into Southeast Asia, is surrounded by uncertainty after its owner, Liu Weigao, was arrested for corruption earlier this year.
In the past thirteen months, the entire Communist Party leadership of Yunnan has fallen one by one to charges of corruption. That the man chosen to replace one of these fallen leaders has now been investigated himself for graft only reinforces the notion that something is wrong in Yunnan’s politics. Is it that the profits from province’s tin and copper mines are too tempting for these top officials? Is it their connections to the disgraced security czar Zhou Yongkang and his Sichuan-based clique? Or is it something else?
Whatever the reason, Yunnan’s relationship with the center is clearly troubled with no solution in sight. Those next in line for the province’s party leadership will be desperate to find one; their role in China’s development in Southeast Asia depends on it.