The hunt is on for ‘crocodiles’ in China’s corridors of power

Alice Yan
USO | Getty Images

China's minister for clean government has warned businesspeople against colluding with officials for political power, calling the practice "very dangerous".

The warning from Yang Xiaodu, the minister of supervision and a right-hand man of top graft-buster Wang Qishan, comes as observers are watching closely to see if more tycoons will be targeted ahead of a reshuffle of the top ranks later this year.

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China Securities Regulatory Commission chairman Liu Shiyu said last month the authorities would go after more "big crocodiles" – the mainland term for wealthy corrupt businesspeople – to clamp down on manipulation of the stock market.

At the China Development Forum on Saturday, Yang said two types of entrepreneurs had been keen to cultivate links with government officials.

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"One group wants to find patrons and aims to get an advantage in the market," he said. "The other group hopes, after obtaining wealth, to seek political power. This is dangerous."

Yang said the anticorruption campaign would be instrumental in cutting collusion between officials and businesspeople.

Yang did not name any names but the Beijing-based Legal Evening News said some businesspeople, such as executed mining tycoon Liu Han, went into politics themselves while others sought to wield influence by funding the promotion of political allies.

An example of the second kind was coal-mining kingpin Zhang Xinming, who conspired with ­senior officials in Shanxi province and was nicknamed the "underground organisation ­minister".

Famed hedge fund manager Xu Xiang also came to grief over stock market manipulation, sentenced to 5½ years in jail in January. But the fate of mainland billionaire Xiao Jianhua remains a mystery – he disappeared from Hong Kong earlier this year and is reportedly assisting investigations on the mainland.

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Political scientist Chen Daoyin, from Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said Yang's words were not just a warning to conspiring tycoons but also a signal of how severe ­Beijing saw the situation had ­become.

"Power has been captured by money and officials will use funds from businessmen to elevate their position with the government," Chen said.

President Xi Jinping last year raised the idea of forging a new relationship between business and government.

But Hu Wei, vice-president of the Shanghai Federation of Social Sciences, said Xi's vision would ­remain unfulfilled unless the fundamental economic system in which key resources are controlled by the authorities was changed.

"The anticorruption campaign can only address symptoms and the government should also look at the root causes of the problem," Hu said.

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