Zhou Yongkang, the former head of the Chinese Communist Party’s security forces, has emerged again in public after a prolonged absence and reports that he was under investigation.
The Chinese leadership has for months now been conducting corruption investigations into several key portfolios that he controlled, including the petroleum industry.
His reappearance for the 60th anniversary of his alma mater, the China University of Petroleum on Oct. 1, signals that Party authorities are attempting to stifle chatter and demonstrate unity, according to Shi Cangshan, an analyst of the Chinese Communist Party based in Washington, in an interview with Epoch Times.
“They’re using this incident to undercut the rumors, showing that Zhou Yongkang is not in detention or shuanggui,” Shi said, using the Chinese term that refers to an internal and secretive form of interrogation, carried out by the Party against members accused of malfeasance.
But it doesn’t indicate that he’s not under investigation, Shi added. “The authorities didn’t use their mouthpiece media to report it. The news was only posted on the university’s website. There is a faction inside the Party that’s investigating him. But it doesn’t seem the time to arrest him or take any action yet.”
Zhou has largely been out of public view for the last year. He was previously one of the most powerful men in the Chinese Communist Party, given that his portfolio was the roughly $120 billion security apparatus.
Xi Jinping, the new Party leader, has forcefully taken charge of the regime, and much of the political network that Zhou Yongkang built up has been dismantled. Cadres loyal to Xi have been parachuted into key positions, while Zhou’s people have been demoted or, most recently, subject to aggressive investigations into what Party media say is corruption.
Zhou Yongkang during his speech at the university on Oct. 1 mentioned Xi Jinping three times, and payed homage to Xi’s notion of the “China Dream,” which may become Xi Jinping’s legacy contribution to the canon of Chinese communist theory.
Zhou asked all teachers and students to “closely unite around Party Central led by Xi Jinping,” and “realize the China dream by making new milestones in the oil industry.”
He was accompanied by university staff and no official entourage, a contrast to the retired Party head Hu Jintao, who was accompanied by the standing provincial Party Secretary and a key official from the Party’s central internal office when he returned to his hometown of Longchuan Village in Anhui Province last month.
Following this year’s summertime meeting at the secretive vacation resort of Beidaihe, where top Party officials periodically convene to decide on new policies, there has been widespread speculation that Zhou Yongkang may be under investigation. Many of the officials loyal to him in the oil industry have been arrested or put under investigation, while those associated with him Sichuan Province, where he was once Party Secretary, have also been disposed of.
According to Lan Shu, an independent analyst of Chinese politics who spoke with Sound of Hope, an overseas Chinese radio network, the diminishment of Zhou’s status makes sense from the perspective of the current rulers.
Lan Shu elaborated his analysis: “Looking at it from the perspective of safeguarding the rule of the Party, Xi Jinping must do two things: He first has to push forward reforms. Without reform, the Chinese Communist Party is doomed to collapse. In order to carry out reforms, the interests of certain factions must be sacrificed, since there is a limit to the rents that can be shared. Second, Xi must do his best to remove the group of people who have caused the biggest discontent, or who have been mostly denounced by the Chinese people.”
Zhou Yongkang is widely loathed for heading the Party’s security forces and overseeing their expansion and encroachment into the lives of an increasing number of people. He had control of the courts, the prison system, labor camps, the police force, secret police, and the People’s Armed Police, which is the size of a standing army, and which is called upon to violently suppress protests against injustice and abuse of power as they crop up daily across China. Zhou was also for the duration of his tenure the chief enforcer of the persecution of Falun Gong, and the suppression generally of dissidents and human rights defenders.