In succession battles in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), leaders regularly seek to assure they will not be held accountable for the crimes committed on their watch. There has been no bigger crime on the CCP’s books since the Cultural Revolution than the persecution of Falun Gong, and the fear of being held responsible for that persecution is driving what may be one of the bitterest succession battles in the history of the CCP.
A 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing released by WikiLeaks states a principle that governs the struggles over succession that many China watchers have observed: “The central feature of leadership politics was the need to protect oneself and one’s family from attack after leaving office. Thus, current leaders carefully cultivated protégés who would defend their interests once they stepped down,” notes an unnamed source in the cable.
Zhou Yongkang rose from Party secretary in Sichuan Province to minister of public security, earning himself the nickname “the human rights killer” in the process.
The jockeying for position that is a constant feature of CCP politics has intensified with the 18th Party Congress, due to be convened later this year. At that meeting a new head of the CCP—presumed to be Xi Jinping—will be introduced and the membership of the elite nine-member Standing Committee of the Politburo will be reshuffled. The people who run the Party will be locked into place until the next Party Congress, five years down the road.
At the center of the intrigues in the Party are Bo Xilai, the Party boss of the province-level city of Chongqing in central-western China, and Zhou Yongkang, who heads the powerful Central Political and Legislative Committee and oversees the 610 office, an extra-judicial Gestapo-like police force charged with eradicating the spiritual practice of Falun Gong.
Zhou Yongkang and Bo Xilai are both known to be part of a faction in the CCP loyal to former CCP head Jiang Zemin.
Bill Gertz of the website The Washington Free Beacon quotes a U.S. official to the effect that Zhou has become Bo’s protector. After Wang Lijun, the former head of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau under Bo Xilai, left the U.S. Consulate, he was detained by Beijing officials and was said to be eager to reveal all of Bo’s dealings in order to give Bo’s opponents in the CCP the ammunition they needed to justify bringing him down.
According to U.S. officials quoted by Gertz, “Zhou Yongkang, China’s most senior security official and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, has taken charge of Chongqing from Bo Xilai. However, Zhou has not allowed Beijing security authorities to further investigate or arrest Bo.”
Promotion Through Persecution
The special relationship of Bo and Zhou rests to a great deal on the fact that each of them climbed rapidly in the Party’s hierarchy due to their enthusiastic implementation of Jiang’s policy of eradicating the Falun Gong spiritual practice.
Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) involves practicing meditative exercises and living according to teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. After first being taught publicly in 1992, the practice spread very rapidly, so that by early 1999 an official in the state’s Sports Administration suggested 100 million people had taken up Falun Gong.
Bo Xilai rose to power by backing Jiang’s campaign against Falun Gong.
The number of people practicing—larger than the membership of the CCP, and the possibility that the Chinese people would find the teachings of Falun Gong more attractive than the doctrines of the CCP, scared Jiang Zemin, who in July 1999 ordered the campaign against Falun Gong.
Jiang did so despite a prevailing sentiment within the Standing Committee that Falun Gong practitioners were not a threat. Former Premier Zhu Rongji held a conciliatory stance toward the group, even as it came under assault. Previously, Zhu had praised how Falun Gong helped ease the regime’s health care costs.
Click this tag to read The Epoch Times’ collection of articles on the Chinese Regime in Crisis. Intra-CCP politics are a challenge to make sense of, even for veteran China watchers. Here we attempt to provide readers with the necessary context to understand the situation.
With Jiang Zemin’s sponsorship, Zhou Yongkang rose from Party secretary in Sichuan Province to minister of public security, earning himself the nickname “the human rights killer” in the process. He presided over the Ministry of Public Security from 2002 to 2007, before ascending to his current post as director of Central Political and Legislative Committee.
Bo Xilai also rose due to his participation in the persecution, going rapidly from mayor of Dalian City, to governor of Liaoning Province, to minister of commerce, and, with Jiang’s and [Zhou’s] backing, was poised to become vice premier.
But the persecution, and the efforts by Falun Gong practitioners outside China to hold Bo accountable, made Bo vulnerable to challenge.
A 2007 U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks revealed Premier Wen Jiabao defeated Bo’s promotion to vice premier largely because of a bevy of international lawsuits for crimes against humanity filed against him by practitioners. Wen argued that because Bo was being sued around the world for persecuting Falun Gong he could not be promoted to represent the Party.
Bo Xilai learned at the 2007 Party Congress that he would be demoted from minister of commerce and sent to take charge of the problem-prone Chongqing.
Next…Controlling the Succession