Top Chinese officials recently announced that the Communist Party would begin a purge of the powerful Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC), a Party agency that oversees the country’s security apparatus, including police, courts, and prisons.
The Party will complete the purge by the first quarter of 2022, right before its 20th National Congress, a conference that occurs every five years to determine the next succession of Party leaders.
The PLAC was formerly the stronghold of current Party leader Xi Jinping’s political rivals, namely, officials who were loyal to former Party leader Jiang Zemin.
Since Xi took power in 2012, he has launched a wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign that has felled many of his opposition, including top officials within the PLAC. In recent years, the agency’s power was diminished when Xi removed the PLAC chief from the Politburo Standing Committee, the Party’s top decision-making body.
But experts say the announcement of a forthcoming purge indicates Xi is still struggling to keep PLAC officials in line.
On July 8, PLAC Secretary-General Chen Yixin hosted a meeting in Beijing to begin the “cleansing” campaign.
“The PLAC teams [in the whole country] are impure, unjust, and lack executive force. Some members even violate law and discipline. They are bad horses, have bad impact, and have done great damage,” Chen said. “We have to turn the blade to face ourselves … in order to treat the problem.”
Chen announced that five districts from five provinces, as well as two prisons in the northeastern city of Harbin, would start the campaign from July to October as the first phase. Then, the whole country would implement the campaign from 2021 to the first quarter of 2022.
Chen pointed out “six stubborn diseases” that the campaign would target: PLAC officials who interfere with the judicial system; officials who operate companies; officials who own shares of private companies or lend money with interests; officials’ spouses or children who operate illegal businesses; officials who shorten prisoners’ sentences or release them after receiving bribes or other special favors; and officials who “control” criminal cases.
While the initiative appears to be an anti-corruption drive, the mention of eliminating “bad horses” from the Party refers to getting rid of officials who endanger the Party’s stability.
U.S.-based China affairs commentator Tang Jingyuan says the Party may be seeking to achieve two purposes with the purging campaign.
“One is removing officials who have power but don’t follow Xi Jinping’s lead,” he said, as Xi may be concerned that the PLAC would grow into an anti-Xi faction and “become the Party’s second Central Committee,” referring to the Party’s 200-plus committee of top officials.
The other purpose is to distract the Chinese public from current crises such as the economic depression, pandemic, flooding, and other disasters.
“The CCP wants to convince people that all bad things were done by these so-called ‘bad horses,’” Tang said in an interview.
Earlier this year, the Party also initiated an effort aimed at Party cohesion.
On April 21, state media Xinhua reported that the CCP Central Committee set up a “peaceful China construction coordinating team.” PLAC Chairman Guo Shengkun will lead the team.
On July 6, China’s supreme court-operated website People’s Court News reported that the coordinating team has set up a “political security” branch, led by Lei Dongsheng, vice secretary-general of PLAC.
Within CCP politics, “political security” refers to the safety and stability of the CCP’s rule. According to the report, Lei said “political correctness” was a priority.
So far this year, two high-ranking officials who made their careers in the PLAC system were recently ousted.
China’s vice public security minister Sun Lijun was detained on April 19 for an internal Party investigation, before being officially dismissed on May 8. Meanwhile, minister of justice Fu Zhenghua, a member of the Jiang faction who opposed Xi’s rule, was dismissed from several positions he held within the legal system between April 20 and May 5.
Sun and Fu were promoted by Meng Jianzhu, who was PLAC chairman from 2012 to 2017, and another key player in the Jiang faction. Several other subordinates of Meng were dismissed in May and June.
Sun was dismissed because he was involved in a coup plan, in which the Jiang faction was vying to replace Xi, an insider from Beijing told the Chinese-language Epoch Times in April.