One-Time Potential Rival to China's Xi Draws Life Sentence

At a party meeting a year ago, a senior official stated that Sun and other senior figures prosecuted in Xi's anti-corruption crackdown were "conspiring openly to usurp party leadership".

Sun Zhengcai, a former top Chinese Communist Party official once considered a potential successor to President Xi Jinping, has been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of taking bribes.

Since the last year's Congress, several officials at or above deputy ministerial level and senior military officials have been investigated or punished, including former Chinese military chief of staff Fang Fenghui and Lu Wei, former deputy head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, as well as vice governors of Shaanxi, Shandong and Jiangxi provinces. He expressed regret and remorse for taking millions of dollars in bribes.

Sun was given a "lenient" sentence in exchange for his cooperation, the court in the northern port city of Tianjin said on Tuesday.

His wealth was confiscated and his political rights were stripped for the rest of his life, according to the verdict.

During last year's National Congress, Xi vowed to continue his anti-corruption campaign, claiming "he fight against corruption has formed an overwhelming posture and strengthened in development".

The fall of Sun is reminiscent of the purge of Bo Xilai in 2012.

He was replaced in Chongqing by Xi protege Chen Min'er, who was subsequently promoted to the Politburo.

Mr Sun's fate was never in doubt as the party controls the courts and a guilty charge nearly always results in conviction.

Sun's case is interesting because it seems to signal that any challengers can be charged with a political crime.

China's parliament also removed the two-term limit for the president paving the way for Xi to continue in power for life.

Sun fell from grace just months before the Communist Party met for its twice-a-decade conference in October, and a generational transfer of power was made in key decision-making bodies.

  • Jon Douglas