KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
China's ruling Communist Party is holding its most important meeting of the year right now. They're trying to figure out how to tighten party discipline and fight corruption within the party. President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign has so far investigated over a million officials. As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing, behind the campaign is a deeper political struggle.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: President Xi Jinping tried to explain his anti-graft campaign to an American audience last year on a trip to Seattle.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Through interpreter) This has nothing to do with power struggle. In this case, there's no "House Of Cards."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOUSE OF CARDS")
MOLLY PARKER: (As Jackie Sharp) What is this?
KEVIN SPACEY: (As Frank Underwood) My files on Webb and Buchwalter. Why don't you take a look?
KUHN: Xi was referring, of course, to the TV drama in which Kevin Spacey plays Frank Underwood, a conniving politician with an arsenal of dirty tricks. Xi might deny that there's a power struggle. But experts in state media often describe the anti-graft drive as a fierce political struggle. Beijing University anti-corruption expert Zhuang Deshui says that high-ranking officials netted in the anti-graft drive did indeed pocket vast amounts of the nation's wealth. But...
ZHUANG DESHUI: (Through interpreter) More importantly, they were trying to seize control of state power.
KUHN: The highest officials to fall so far are ex-security czar Zhou Yongkang and ex-presidential aide Ling Jihua. Both of them commanded large factions which controlled parts of the government and owed their personal allegiance to these two men, not the party or the state. Zhuang says that the four-year campaign has so far acquired 160 officials at the cabinet level or above. And nearly half of them have ties to these two factions.
JOE FEWSMITH: These issues could in the future be one of regime survival.
KUHN: Boston University political scientist Joe Fewsmith argues that this is how Chinese Communist Party leaders rise to power - by eliminating rival factions. He says they have these winner-take-all feuds because they have no other way to decide who should rule the country.
FEWSMITH: Certainly, China is the only major country in the world that worries about its legitimacy on sort of a day-to-day basis.
KUHN: Factions are not allowed in the Communist Party. But some folks think that they should be. After all, they argue, the party has more than 80 million members, and they should be allowed to group themselves based on ideas and policies. But unfortunately, says Beijing University's Zhuang Deshui, that's not the case.
ZHUANG: (Through interpreter) It would be better if these factions had common goals and ideologies. What concerns us is that they're only after power for its own sake.
KUHN: But experts say it would be an oversimplification to say that Xi Jinping is only interested in knocking out rivals and consolidating power. Joe Fewsmith adds that Xi wants to change his party's political culture, restoring the discipline and loyalty he believes the party commanded under Chairman Mao and other revolutionaries, including his own father.
FEWSMITH: He does worry a lot about who's up and who's down. But yes, he is also worried about the party as an institution. And he's determined to revive those elements of the party that he associates with his father in the 1950s.
KUHN: Party discipline will be the focus of this week's meeting. And that's likely to include preventing the rise of factions. This meeting is the last big one before a party congress next year, where delegates are expected to give Xi a second and final five-year term. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.
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