A top Chinese domestic security official and crony of a political faction that seeks to sabotage the current Chinese leadership was abruptly removed from office in a sensitive period for the Chinese regime.
At the start of June, Chen Zhimin was a vice minister in the Chinese regime’s Ministry of Public Security with key portfolios in the cybersecurity agency and the office that oversees the semi-autonomous Chinese regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
Now Chen, who spent over two decades in law enforcement and has three years to go before hitting retirement age, appears to be completely out of work in the prime of his career.
In a list of official appointees and dismissals on June 9, the Chinese human resources ministry noted alongside other personnel changes that vice minister Chen had been “removed from office.” Chen, who was also deputy director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, is no longer featured on the internet censorship agency’s key personnel webpage.
Chen’s case is noteworthy because his sudden dismissal is bookended by two sensitive dates, June 10 and July 1. June 10 is the founding date of an extralegal security agency tasked with overseeing the persecution of Falun Gong. July 1 is the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese control, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to be in town for the festivities.
Given Chen’s previous involvement in the persecution and in Hong Kong affairs, the timing of his dismissal announcement suggests that his future prospects are grim.
Chen Zhimin, a native of Zhejiang Province, served in various leadership positions in the south central province of Hunan before moving up to the Ministry of Public Security in 2000. After about a year as deputy chief, Chen was promoted to head of Domestic Security Protection Bureau, a department tasked with suppressing dissidents, regular petitioners, and human rights activists.
Chen’s time in the Domestic Security Protection Bureau meant that he would be very familiar with the persecution campaign that former Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin ordered against Falun Gong.
In 1999, Jiang decided that Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline that promotes physical fitness and moral teachings, was a threat to the atheist Chinese regime and should be eradicated. Jiang oversaw the creation of the “610 Office,” a Gestapo-like agency named after the date of its creation, to coordinate the persecution of Falun Gong.
Jiang had promised to reward Chinese officials who played an active role in the persecution, a policy which Chen appears to be a beneficiary of. Chen published a series of books slandering Falun Gong in August 2001 when he was deputy chief, and was made department chief by the end of that year.
The World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong, a US-based NGO, lists Chen Zhimin as one of the main culprits responsible for persecuting Falun Gong practitioners.
The announcement of Chen’s removal near the founding of the 610 Office does not bode well for him. Several other top security officials who are members of the powerful faction helmed by Jiang Zemin, like former security czar Zhou Yongkang and provincial domestic security chief Zhang Yue, were purged or punished on corruption charges around key Falun Gong persecution dates. Jiang’s faction has sought to undermine the leadership of Xi Jinping even before Xi took office in 2012.
The Chinese human resources ministry didn’t offer a reason for Chen’s dismissal, and didn’t mention if he had received a new posting.
It is unclear whether or not Chen is being investigated for corruption. A high-level source in the Ministry of Public Security told this newspaper in January that Xi was preparing to remove security officials who were resisting his policies, and had set up an anti-corruption office inside the Ministry for this express purpose.
Chen’s dismissal could also be linked with his influence in Hong Kong and Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to mark the anniversary of the handover.
In 2003, Chen was put in charge of the Ministry of Public Security’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. Chen continued to handle Hong Kong and Macau matters after becoming vice minister in 2009; this April, Chen and other ministry officials met with Hong Kong police commissioner and six other Hong Kong officials as part of an annual meeting.
Chen’s long involvement in Hong Kong and association with Jiang’s faction through his participation in persecution could have counted against him because Xi’s “safety and security while in Hong Kong is of paramount importance,” political commentator Tang Jingyuan told New Tang Dynasty Television, a sister media of The Epoch Times.
“Xi won’t trust Chen Zhimin, an official who was rapidly promoted in the Jiang era, and was part of Zhou Yongkang’s security apparatus,” Tang said.
Chang Chun contributed to this report.