A Warning for Conspirators?

China in Context Newsletter Issue 38
June 12, 2017 Updated: June 12, 2017

Making sense of news from Hong Kong political magazines is tricky business.

Details of high-level, internal discussions of the Chinese leadership have for decades surfaced in the pages of Hong Kong publications—a phenomenon made possible by the relatively freer press environment in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese city and former British colony.

Yet these Hong Kong political magazines should affix a “reader beware” tag. “Their content can be considered ‘half-real, half-fake,'” a veteran Hong Kong publisher, who began his career at one of these magazines, told The Epoch Times in an interview. Some articles were indeed well-sourced, the publisher noted, but others were simply creative writing exercises by reporters on deadline.

Longtime observers of elite Chinese politics are usually able to discern which political faction the news might be sourced from, depending on how the news is presented and whose interests it ultimately serves.

Perhaps a better way to understand the function of political news from Hong Kong is to see how it fits into larger Chinese and global trends.

Take an article in the June issue of Chengming, for example. Anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan had reportedly reminded the Communist Party’s internal police of five “ambitious conspirators”—Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang, Guo Boxiong, Xu Caihou, and Ling Jihua—during a key anti-corruption conclave in January.

The five are either key members or associates of former Party boss Jiang Zemin’s faction. Insider sources say that Bo and Zhou in particular had made plans to remove Chinese leader Xi Jinping from office. Xi has since alluded to this coup attempt in several official speeches.  

The Chengming article also noted that discipline inspectors from Party central and the military met in May to go through classified details about the “conspirators” Guo and Xu, both former military vice chairs who were purged under Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.

The Hong Kong magazine article has a slight ring of authenticity to it; during a well-publicized inspection of the navy on May 24, Xi called for “efforts to thoroughly purge the pernicious influence of Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou.”

The article suggests that the Xi leadership is wary of potential political “wreckers” from Jiang’s faction and is seeking to warn them against escalation. The timing of the article’s publication points toward a known Jiang associate currently based in New York.

On June 9, three executives from Beijing Pangu Investment Company Limited confessed in a Chinese court to having committed fraud on orders from their boss Guo Wengui. Since May, Guo, a fugitive Chinese billionaire with channels to Jiang’s right-hand man Zeng Qinghong, has been making unverifiable claims on social media that anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan is involved in corruption.

Guo’s attack on Wang seems very much like an attempt by the Jiang faction to force Xi to abandon Wang, Xi’s closest ally and a crucial enabler of the anti-corruption campaign that has put away many Jiang acolytes.

The next step is predictable: A stern response issued from Xi and Wang to Guo and the Jiang faction.