Marco Werman: Zhou Yongkang - his power and his influence in the Chinese oil sector have earned him the nickname, "China's Dick Cheney." But in Zhou's case, power has brought him down, it seems. He's now under investigation for corruption. The investigation has been kind of an open secret for months but today's China's state news agency made it official. So, a big deal, or just inside politics in the midst of a corruption crackdown in China? Isaac Stone Fish is the Asia editor at Foreign Policy Magazine. Is the Dick Cheney parallel an accurate one, Isaac?
Isaac Stone Fish: I think the Dick Cheney parallel is a good one in that it demonstrates just how important Zhou was in the Chinese system and it also hints at the massive amount of power that Zhou was able to accumulate behind the scenes. Zhou was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee from 2007 to 2012. He was officially ranked 9th but he was believed to be the 3rd most powerful man in China.
Werman: Right, so accumulation of power and accumulation, it's got to be said, of a lot of money. Is it a big deal then that Zhou's now under investigation?
Stone Fish: Zhou's not been seen in public since October of last year and usually former leaders who have doubts cast on them show up in places just to let people know that they're still alive, that they're still under the Red Sun of the Communist party. People had basically all but assumed that Zhou was done for since December or January and the fact that the Party has announced it means that someone up there feels like they have their ducks enough in a row to move forward on the prosecution of Zhou. So it is a big deal because it means that they're ready for the next step.
Werman: As I said, this is kind of part of a whole corruption crackdown in China but it seems Chinese President Xi Jinping is pretty eager to go after Zhou YongKang. Why is that? Because there are plenty corrupt officials to go around these days.
Stone Fish: We don't know exactly why she's targeted Zhou but there's a couple of leading theories. One is that Zhou supported Bo Xilai, the former Chongqing party secretary who fell, in a spectacular fashion, in 2012. Zhou was reportedly the only one on the Standing Committee to support or to vote against his ouster, so this could be payback for that. It could be that Zhou was in fact more corrupt than a lot of the other officials. And it could just be that Xi Jinping wanted to steer the country away from some of the policies that Zhou Yongkang championed. Zhou was very known for something called ??, which is stability maintenance, and that was responsible for a lot of the repression that we've seen over the last 5 years or so in the region of Xinjiang and northwest China and in Tibet, so getting rid of Zhou could be a signal about liberalization possibly as well.
Werman: The Chinese government, according to Reuters, has seized assets worth $14 billion from Zhou and his associates. That's a lot of money. Was it all from the oil sector? Where did it come from?
Stone Fish: That is a lot of money and it's very, very difficult to say. I think probably most of his money, if these allegations are true, came from connections he made in the energy sector and also probably in real estate as well, just by having access to all of that land and then being able to sell it. Zhou was also formerly Minister of Land and Resources, so that also probably really helped line his pocketbook.
Werman: Since the investigation against Zhou Yongkang wasn't made officially public until today, do you think we'll ever know what's going on with the investigation until some final announcement is given when prosecution is complete?
Stone Fish: That's a very good question. There's so many tantalizing rumors floating around but I think until either the Communist Party liberalizes and opens up the archives or until we get a really, really great leaker, I don't think we're going to find out what exactly is going on behind the closed doors of seat of the government in Beijing.
Werman: Isaac Stone Fish from Foreign Policy Magazine, thanks a lot.
Stone Fish: Thanks Marco.