Hu Jintao Takes Aim at China’s Top Cop

March 28, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Hu Jintao
Hu Jintao. (Elizabeth Dalziel/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese Communist Party head Hu Jintao has left China for an eight-day, three-nation tour, even though Beijing is awash with rumors about the ongoing bitter power struggle among the CCP’s leadership. Analysts say Hu was secure in traveling at this time because he used an old ploy to contain his most dangerous enemy.

That enemy is Zhou Yongkang, who heads the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC), a powerful Party organ that controls the police, the Armed Police, the procuratorate, the courts, and just about every other part of the regime’s law enforcement system. Zhou is also a member of the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee that runs the CCP.

After Wang Lijun, the former chief of police of the province-level city of Chongqing, attempted to defect to the American Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, a cabal within the CCP involving Zhou Yongkang and Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai was brought into the open.

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Bo Xilai was known to be Zhou’s choice to succeed him as head of the PLAC and on the Standing Committee—Zhou is scheduled to retire in October. Zhou and Bo are both heavily implicated in the persecution of Falun Gong. With Bo in power, Zhou could retire knowing he would not be held accountable for his crimes against Falun Gong practitioners.

Longtime national security reporter Bill Gertz quoted a U.S. official as saying that Wang knew of “the efforts of the hardliners like Zhou Yongkang and Bo Xilai to upset the smooth succession of Xi Jinping.” The Chinese dissident website Boxun reported that Zhou and Bo planned a coup to unseat the presumptive next head of the CCP, Xi Jinping, after he took power.

On March 15 Xinhua announced that Bo had been sacked and was under investigation. It has since been rumored that he is being held under house arrest. Since Bo’s arrest, several top Chongqing Party officials have also been arrested.

This purge of Bo and his loyalists has weakened Zhou, but he still holds power. And knowing that Hu and Wen have acted against Bo, Zhou may be even more dangerous, having been backed into a corner.

Rumors of a coup attempt said to have taken place on the night of March 19 and on March 20 fingered Zhou as responsible. Other rumors claim that on March 21, Zhou was himself arrested.

Hu Jintao’s Plan

On March 21, a series of PLAC training sessions involving 3,300 party secretaries nationwide was announced.

According to a March 26 report by Party mouthpiece Xinhua, 462 provincial, city, and county-level PLAC secretaries showed up for the first six-day session in Beijing. Zhou Yongkang appeared on opening day and gave a speech, while Hu Jintao left Beijing for Seoul, the first stop on his trip.
In his speech, Zhou appeared as a loyal Party cadre. China Central Television covered Zhou’s speech, highlighting its focus on Hu’s contribution to CCP ideology, the Scientific Development Concept. Zhou also spoke of the importance of the PLAC keeping a tight grip on its political direction and maintaining the utmost consensus with Party Central on “major matters of right and wrong.”

On March 23, Zhou had called a nationwide PLAC meeting in Beijing. His letter on that occasion struck a very different tone. Zhou praised highly the “accomplishments” of the PLAC.

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Shi Zangshan, a Washington D.C.-based China expert, commented on Sound of Hope Radio (SOH) on Hu’s stratagem: “Hu Jintao summoned PLAC secretaries from around the country for training on very short notice. This is Hu’s method of preventing Zhou Yongkang from mobilizing the police and armed security forces while Hu is traveling. Obviously, Hu does not trust Zhou.”

Li Tianxiao, a political commentator and columnist for The Epoch Times, told SOH: “The training [session] has stripped Zhou of his power by isolating Zhou. It’s like putting Zhou under house arrest, and thereby preventing him from influencing the PLAC’s lower-level cadres.”

Li said in the past, Zhou violated the law and committed many crimes by directly giving orders to his PLAC secretaries around the nation. Now these secretaries have been summoned to Beijing and are being given an opportunity to expose Zhou.

“Zhou’s situation now is similar to that of Bo Xilai when he met Canadian Prime Minister Harper [on Feb. 11] during his visit in China,” Li said. “Bo also appeared at a press conference during the two meetings [the annual meetings of the National Party Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which adjourned March 14 in Beijing]. People therefore thought Bo was not in trouble. However, a few days later, Bo was arrested. Zhou’s appearance at the training session is like that.”

“The nature of infighting in the CCP is such that you can appear in the public eye one day, but you might be arrested the next day,” Li said. “This is determined by the nature of the Party’s bloody power struggle. Therefore, Zhou’s appearance in the training does not mean he is safe.”

Control of Armed Forces

Political and social commentator Wu Fan told The Epoch Times that Hu Jintao’s biggest worries are the Armed Police and the Public Security Bureau forces controlled by Zhou.

“By summoning the PLAC secretaries, who have the power over the Armed Police and the Public Security forces, Hu basically has put all of them under control,” Wu said.

“Hu himself does not need to give a speech. Instead, Zhou had to give a speech about obeying the Party Central,” Wu said. “Zhou’s attitude totally changed in his March 26 speech. He said that PLAC is merely a functional branch, not a commanding branch, nor a branch in a leading position, and therefore the PLAC must obey the Central government.”

Earlier in the month, Hu had called on the People’s Liberation Army and on the Armed Police to pay more attention to “safeguarding social stability.”

Party mouthpiece Xinhua reported on March 23 that Guo Boxiong, the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, had asked the army to be prepared to handle well stability maintenance and disaster relief work, and to make sure to act quickly should anything occur. This would be a change of role for the army. Stability maintenance has been the province of the Armed Police, who are regularly used to suppress protests.

On March 27, People’s Liberation Army Daily article continued the drumbeat of the military following Hu’s lead: “New developments have arisen as profound changes have taken place in the world, nation, and the Party. … We should ensure that all troops resolutely follow the command of the Party Central, Central Military Commission, and Chairman Hu.”

Hu and Wen’s way of dealing with Zhou Yongkang is quite similar to how Mao and Zhou Enlai dealt with Lin Biao some 40 years ago. When Lin Biao, then a military leader, attempted a coup to oust Mao, Zhou Enlai summoned military generals to Beijing to show their loyalty or else be arrested.