Wang Qishan, the head of China’s corruption agency the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, is as of Wednesday no longer a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful body of the Chinese Communist Party.
It is unclear whether an exit from his position as the head of President Xi Jinping’s extensive anti-corruption probe will follow. Reports suggest Wang’s name was absent from the list of Politburo Standing Committee because Xi has enforced an informal retirement rule for Communist Party officials that reach age 68. In the months leading up to the Communist Party Congress, however, Wang has become the most prominent target of attack for Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire who claims to have evidence of widespread corruption at the highest levels of the Chinese communist regime.
Guo, who goes by “Miles Kwok” on social media, has alleged that Wang has made millions off of illicit connections to the Chinese conglomerate HNA; HNA has sued Guo for defamation.
The South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday that Wang made a “low-key exit” from the Communist Party (CPC) congress after his name did not appear on the list of Politburo Standing Committee members. His future, just as his position on the committee prior to Tuesday, remains uncertain. Prior to confirmation of his exit, the Post speculated that Wang is “unlikely to go into full retirement,” but noted that another Chinese communist official, Zhao Leji, is “expected to take over anti-corruption responsibilities from Wang.”
“Nicknamed the party’s ‘fire chief’ for his ability to manage political crises, Wang could still help Xi in some other capacity,” the Post noted.
Wang’s position of leadership during a purge that has led to thousands of arrests of Communist Party members has made him the public image of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign—a campaign opponents suggest is designed to eradicate dissenters to the Xi doctrine more than punish excessive spending or fund misappropriation. The campaign reached its peak in 2015, when over 2,000 officials were arrested for crimes like “private use of official cars, illegal subsidies, lavish spending at weddings and funerals, accepting festival gifts and use of public funds for high-end entertainment activities and travel,” according to Chinese state outlet Xinhua.
Xi has denied such allegations, joking in a 2015 speech that “there is no House of Cards” intrigue behind the arrests.
Wang’s name became increasingly well-known in the West, however, due to repeated accusations from Guo that he himself was among one of the most corrupt men in China. As the Diplomat notes, Kwok used Youtube, Twitter, and other social media to allege that Wang’s family has invested heavily in American properties and that Wang himself has some “involvement in money laundering, human rights abuses, and sex scandals with top Chinese movie stars.” The outlet adds that Wang appeared to have left the public eye in May, following the initial onslaught of accusations from Guo, but the government claimed that this was due to health issues.
“Yet the return of Wang to the spotlight preceded the arrests of Wan Sanyun, a protege of the former President Hu Jintao, and Sun Zhengcai, who was previously seen as a promising candidate for the next Politburo Standing Committee,” the Diplomat noted.
The Chinese government has also broadcast images of Wang and his family at Communist Party events, suggesting no plans to scrub him from the history of the Xi tenure. Photos of Wang in the first row of party leadership at the congress also appeared in state media this week. Yet Wang did not appear to receive any warm goodbye from his fellow Politburo Standing Committee members on Tuesday, according to reports of his departure.
Guo is seeking political asylum in the United States and living in New York, while continuing to accuse senior Communist Party leadership of a variety of crimes, including participation in major corruption schemes.