In a speech heavy with Party jargon and platitudes about better governance, new Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping may have hinted that he is looking to exercise more control over the regime’s security forces, a sprawling apparatus of repression that has long been in the hands of former Party leader Jiang Zemin.
Xi’s remarks, made at a politics and law work conference on Jan. 7, were unusual for a top leader, because they gave direct and fairly specific policy prescriptions for the security forces, according to Wen Zhao, a political commentator with the independent, New York-based New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television.
Giving direct orders is usually done by the secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC), the Party organ that oversees the police forces, the prison system, and the judiciary.
Xi rattled off a list of improvements the security forces need to make. “The country’s politics and law organs must comply with the wishes of the masses for public security, judicial fairness, and new expectations for the guarantee of rights and benefits,” he said.
They were also to “forcefully promote a peaceful China, a China ruled by law,” while “persistently disciplining police,” and “resolutely opposing unjust law enforcement and judicial corruption.”
Wen, the commentator, said that “this is quite important, and shows that Xi Jinping may be exercising direct control of the political-legal powers.” The term “politics and law” goes together in Chinese, and refers to the Party’s exercise of authority over the system of law enforcement.
“The question of who the enormous power of the PLAC belongs to has always been an issue,” Wen said. “It looks like Xi Jinping wants to take over that power, and if he does that will have a huge impact on the shape of intra-party power arrangements.”
For the last decade, the PLAC has been in the hands of loyalists to Jiang Zemin, the leader of the Party from the early 1990s until 2002: First it was Luo Gan, a longtime Jiang ally, and then Zhou Yongkang, who was replaced on the Standing Committee during the 18th Party Congress held last November.
Jiang Zemin’s proxy control over the PLAC—with its expansive budget, greater than that given to the armed forces, and a sweeping mandate to “maintain stability,” by force, at any cost—is believed by many China analysts to have severely restrained the freedom of action of the administration of former leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.
If Xi’s appearance at the work conference and his remarks indicate that he means to really take direct control of the security forces, or bestow their powers to an official loyal to him, and if he is successful in that, “then he’ll be extremely powerful inside the Party,” according to Wen Zhao. “Far more powerful than Hu Jintao ever was.”
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