On the first day of the 19th National Congress on Oct. 18, the most important political meeting on the Chinese Communist Party calendar, there was one notable absence: Luo Gan, the former security chief.
Luo’s absence is additionally conspicuous because just the day prior he was approved as a member of the elite 42-member Standing Committee of the “presidium” of the National Congress. All other members of the presidium were present at the 19th Congress.
By the end of the congress on Oct. 24, the roster for the CCP’s next generation of ruling elite will be unveiled.
The presidium is made up of party elders, as well as current and former Politburo members at the top of the leadership. Their attendance is symbolic of Party bigwigs backing Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s ascension to power. All are expected to attend.
Of the 42 members of the Presidium Standing Committee, the only one who didn’t show up was Luo Gan.
Luo, 82, was head of the Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the Communist Party organ that oversees the vast domestic security apparatus, from 1998 to 2007, and one of nine men at the Party’s upper echelon of power as a Politburo Standing Committee member from 2002 to 2007. He was able to climb up the ranks because he won favor with then-CCP leader Jiang Zemin.
Jiang and those still loyal to him—part of the Jiang faction—are currently in a power struggle with Xi and his supporters.
As one of Jiang’s henchmen, Luo’s disappearance from the presidium has observers speculating what it could mean.
In 1999, Luo was personally chosen by Jiang to carry out his campaign to persecute practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual practice. With Falun Gong’s popularity reaching up to 100 million adherents at the time, Jiang perceived Falun Gong’s presence as a threat to his authoritarian rule and sought to eradicate the practice.
Luo, who had oversight of the state’s law-enforcement institutions, including the police, labor camps, prisons, and the judicial system, directed the arrest and detainment of hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners, who often suffered torture and abuse while imprisoned.
Luo was essentially responsible for creating the 610 Office, a Gestapo-like police created specifically to persecute Falun Gong practitioners.
In 2009, an Argentinian judge issued an arrest warrant for Luo, citing genocide and torture as his crimes. Other countries have since initiated lawsuits against Luo and Jiang.
Under Xi’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign, many Jiang faction officials have been purged. After Li Dongsheng and Zhou Yongkang—who both aided Jiang in the persecution through their roles as head of the 610 Office and head of the Political and Legal Affairs Commission, respectively—were taken down by Xi, observers wondered when Luo would be next.
As for Luo’s disappearance from the latest Party event, Chen Simin, an analyst of contemporary affairs in China, pointed to the recent purge of Wu Aiying, whose downfall was announced at the end of the Central Committee’s seventh plenary session on Oct. 14. These are mandatory sessions attended by the Party’s top officials prior to the National Congress.
Wu had moved up in her career through the CCP’s legal apparatus, eventually serving as minister of justice.
When Luo was in charge of the 610 Office, he appointed Wu to become the leader of a “maintaining stability” group in Shandong Province, a euphemism for squashing dissent. She oversaw the persecution of local Falun Gong practitioners at the time. Luo not showing up at the presidium could have something to do with her recent purge, Chen suggested.
It also did not go without notice that many who were once allied with Jiang did not get invited to the presidium, including Hui Liangyu, former vice premier, and Wang Lequan, former Politburo member and party boss in charge of the Xinjiang region.
Many Jiang faction officials who would’ve showed up as a congress delegate have already been purged by Xi.
Meanwhile, the order of appearance on the list of presidium attendees also alluded to the power struggle. Jiang’s name appeared after all current Politburo members—markedly different from the previous National Congress, when his name was listed right after outgoing CCP leader Hu Jintao. Jiang, who wielded tremendous power from behind the scenes while Hu was appointed leader, had his name ahead of then-premier Wen Jiabao and other Politburo standing committee members at the time.
Political observers see these as signs that Jiang’s influence over the CCP has severely weakened.
Gu Qing’er contributed to this report.