"But if Mr. Xi is indeed declaring war on the country's elites in the name of cleansing the party of corruption, the consequences could be grave in terms of political stability."
BEIJING—High-level corruption in China operates within a system of mutually assured destruction.
When senior officials are caught in probes, their entire networks often crash—family members, mistresses, friends, former colleagues, business associates, bureaucratic allies. One official's fall could threaten others—giving China's political elite little incentive to point fingers.
Over the years, however, one group has enjoyed absolute immunity from this risk—current and retired members of the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee. But that unwritten protection has now been called into question as President Xi Jinping's anticorruption dragnet has enveloped many in the network of Zhou Yongkang, China's retired but still formidable security czar. His son and daughter-in-law have vanished and are assumed by family members to be in the custody of Chinese officials; dozens of his business associates have been hauled away by party investigators.
Mr. Zhou himself hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing. But just the fact that an anticorruption investigation has arrived at his doorstep is surely enough to spread anxiety among a number of China's elite families.