On April 3 Party chief Hu Jintao attended a tree-planting ceremony with eight of his colleagues from the Politburo Standing Committee; the first time they had all been seen together in public since the ouster on March 15 of Bo Xilai, controversial former Party chief of Chongqing. But the relative placidity of the event masked the power struggles, declarations of allegiance, and shoring up of political support that were taking place around it.
Newspaper editorials and public statements by officials have become occasions for them and factions to declare—or quietly fail to declare—their loyalty to Hu Jintao and the current leadership. Analysts say that such political theater has been seen before in China, but only around times of major turbulence in the communist power structure.
On March 29 and 31, the Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily published two commentary articles stating, “centralized thought is required for unified action,” and “making progress with stability is the key to Party Central’s work this year.”
On April 6, People’s Daily published an article stressing that the Party Committee has the responsibility to inquire about what friends cadres have, in order to “purify” their friendship circle.
And on the same day, the People’s Liberation Army Daily, the official newspaper of the military, published a commentary reiterating Chairman Hu’s principle of “making progress with stability.” It emphasized that the cadre corps should “not be disturbed by noise, not be affected by rumors, not be drawn by undercurrents, and ensure that at all times and under all circumstances the military absolutely obeys the command of the Party Central leadership, the Central Military Commission, and Chairman Hu.”
On the same day, Hu apparently began the task of eliminating what is in official discourse referred to as “noise” and “Cultural Revolution vestiges.” Specifically, the leftist website Utopia—a long supporter of Bo—was shut down, along with other Maoist sites. On the same day, chinaelections.org, which is pro-reform, was also shut down. It had been operating for 10 years.
Around the same time, members of the Politburo, the 25-member body that oversees Communist Party affairs, began making public statements. These cadres are candidates for the Politburo Standing Committee, the group of nine who run the Party, at the upcoming 18th National Congress in the fall of 2012.
On April 5, Guangdong Province’s Party Secretary Wang Yang, who is considered a reformer in the style of Premier Wen Jiabao, emphasized his support for Wen and for suppressing the “Maoist noise.” Though he didn’t mention the Hu slogan of “making progress with stability,” as may have been expected.
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Shanghai Municipal Party Secretary Yu Zhengsheng, whose political career was boosted by former Party leader Jiang Zemin, belongs to Jiang’s hard-liner faction. At a political work meeting in early April, Yu said, “The key to achieving progress with stability is a firm political conviction.” Hu Jintao was not mentioned.
In Beijing, the city’s Party Chief Liu Qi apparently took the unusual step of having published in the Beijing Daily an editorial about the benefits of “collective leadership,” which said, “The general secretary is not the supreme leader.” Hu Jintao was out of China at the time; on April 4, when he was back, the article was deleted from the website and a pro-Hu editorial was put up.
“In Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) history, whenever high officials, especially members of the Politburo Committee or provincial-level officials, publicly choose sides and give a stance, it is an indication of rising internal conflicts, and a purge is likely to follow afterward,” said Xia Xiaoqiang, a political commentator, in an interview with the Chinese radio station Sound of Hope.
He Qinglian, a Chinese economist and writer, said in a recent article that the only time provincial government officials were asked to publicly declare uniformity with the central government was after the June 4 massacre in 1989.
“What Hu and Wen are after is definitely not just Bo, but the people backing him,” He wrote.
The current leadership is determined to show that there is unity in the Party, said Wu Fan, a political commentator, in an interview with The Epoch Times.
“Hu Jintao has taken these measures to keep the Party from collapsing before the 18th National Congress,” he said. “Beijing fears that another uprising like the one in June 4, 1989, might erupt. Therefore, instead of an open infighting, the power struggle will continue behind closed doors,” he said.
With the leadership struggle more strained than that of Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang in 1989, the economy in worse shape, and pro-reform ideas percolating much more furiously than they were two decades ago, the possibility of another mass event like the 1989 Tiananmen protests is real indeed, Wu said.
Former Beijing University law professor and dissident Yuan Hongbing said that the obvious quarrels among the top leadership could create the opportunity for a “democratic revolution” in China in the next few years, likening the situation to the sudden collapse of communist rule in the Soviet Union.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.