On Chinese TV, corrupt officials and corporate bad guys are bad guys


Some powerful Chinese companies have attracted a lot of attention on state television this year. The wrong kind.

“Zero Tolerance,” a five-part documentary series that aired on national TV and streaming sites in January, lined up fallen Communist Party members who guided audiences through their own allegedly sinful past — stories of corruption and other corrupt dealings with companies such as CEFC China Energy Co., China Development Bank Corp. and, by implication, Ant Group Co.

The series – part propaganda, part show trial – was produced by state broadcaster CGTN and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Party’s anti-corruption watchdog. He hammered home the message that the government continues to target state officials who help private businesses grow and get rich.

The show follows a year-long crackdown on alleged corporate misconduct and signals another level of danger for companies already accused of engaging in monopolistic practices, misusing data and to harm society.

Its release coincided with a national CCDI gathering that set priorities for the year and was attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping. In a statement, the watchdog said it would tackle “the collusion between capital and power” by stepping up the crackdown on corruption behind “the disorderly expansion of capital and the monopoly of online platforms “.

The implication: Corrupt officials have helped corporations grow too quickly and enrich people in ways contrary to party goals. Released in a year when Mr. Xi is set to seek an unprecedented third term, the documentary is a warning that the crackdown is not over.

“The series is very much in line with the tough regulatory approach to business,” said Dali Yang, professor of political science at the University of Chicago.

On Jan. 26, the CCDI said the party had expelled Zhou Jiangyong, the former party secretary from Hangzhou, where Ant Group and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. are based. He had been under investigation since August.

Newly expelled Communist Party official Zhou Jiangyong, here in 2019, appeared on the latest episode of “Zero Tolerance” to express his remorse for nepotism.


Photo:

Associated press

The anti-corruption agency said Mr Zhou colluded with “capital” and backed its “disorderly expansion”, without naming the companies involved. A week earlier, he appeared on the latest episode of “Zero Tolerance.” Dressed in a gray sweater and with a nonchalant expression, he expressed remorse for nepotism – CCDI alleged that he secured love contracts for his brother and land deals for companies that had invested in the business of his brother, all in the cities where he had presided.

The documentary did not name Ant, but the ruling against a senior party official in Ant’s backyard and discussion of the alleged crime on national television show authorities aren’t letting up the pressure on him. company of Jack Ma.

In an article following Mr. Zhou’s expulsion, China Economic Weekly, a business newspaper published by the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily, cited its own earlier reports that an Ant subsidiary had invested in the company. Mr. Zhou’s brother’s business.

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China’s company registration system shows that one of Ant Group’s investment arms took a stake in a company chaired by Mr. Zhou’s brother in 2019. Official land purchase documents show that Ant bought two commercial lands in Hangzhou in 2020 and 2021 at the asking price as the sole bidder.

Mr. Zhou and his brother could not be reached for comment. Ant did not respond to detailed requests for comment, but has previously said it has complied with all laws and regulations in its dealings.

Beijing halted Ant’s planned $34 billion IPO at the end of 2020 amid concerns over the tech company’s growing influence. The Communist Party Politburo referred to the prevention of the disorderly expansion of capital.

In another episode of the series, a former top banker at China Development Bank, a state-owned company, said he authorized risky loans to CEFC China Energy, once a high-flying private conglomerate, and accepted bribes from founder Ye Jianming.

Mr Ye disappeared and was taken into state custody in early 2018 – except for being named in the conviction of some senior officials as a co-conspirator – and a Chinese court declared the company bankrupt two years later.

CEFC has already struck multibillion-dollar deals for oil assets in Europe and Asia, while founder Mr. Ye flew in private jets, bought luxury properties in New York and hung out with world leaders.

The documentary alleged that he was a friend of crooked Chinese officials who authorized loans that jeopardized the country’s financial security. He said former China Development Bank director Hu Huaibang should never have authorized a $4.8 billion loan to CEFC in 2015. Mr Hu said on the show that he had done it to do a favor for a provincial chief and that they had both received bribes from Mr. Vous.

Former China Development Bank president Hu Huaibang, here in 2018, was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of accepting bribes.


Photo:

bobby yip/Reuters

On camera, Mr Hu said he had been tempted by the trappings of wealth and jealous of others who flew in private jets. He was convicted last year of accepting bribes and is serving a life sentence. Now, he says, “my life is over.”

Mr Ye, who has not been publicly charged, did not appear on the show and could not be reached for comment. China Development Bank did not respond to a request for comment.

“Zero Tolerance” is not the first documentary made by the anti-corruption agency to feature high-level officials caught in political stickiness and accused of crimes. Public confessions on national television are a standard feature of Communist Party rule.

Comments on social media said the documentary only reinforced the belief that corruption is rampant among Chinese officials. Many viewers called it a scene, saying the accused officials did not look contrite enough and were too calm for the proceedings.

“I was so worried that he was going to smile, and then he started smiling,” Wang Wusi, a popular columnist, wrote of the official’s appearance on the show. Of another character, he wrote: “If I hadn’t known he was a target, I would have thought he was leading an anti-corruption campaign.

Wu Qiang, a Beijing-based independent political analyst, said the documentary missed the underlying cause of corruption in China, leaving officials simply looking unlucky enough to get caught.

“The Communist Party tries to pinpoint the source of corruption in capital, but does not recognize that lack of competition and supervision is the problem,” he said.

Write to Wenxin Fan at [email protected]

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