Insider: Factional ‘Death Match’ Dominates China’s Politics
The retired Communist Party official Xin Ziling was several years ago told to shut up. Hardliners in the Party had become frustrated at what they considered his “liberal” agitating—signing a petition supporting freedom of speech, talking in public on the sensitive subject of political reform.
Now, he’s back. For about the past six months, Xin (pronounced “sin”) has been active in setting forth his theory of the secret operations of Chinese politics to a number of overseas Chinese media outlets.
His take-away message is that Chinese politics is currently defined by the “death match” between Xi Jinping, the current leader of the Communist Party, and Jiang Zemin, the Communist Party leader from 1989 to 2002, who wielded behind-the-scenes power for the next decade. Jiang is the biggest threat to Xi Jinping’s rule, Xin says.
Part of Xin Ziling’s analysis of the Communist Party’s notoriously opaque system seems intuitive—though other parts of it defy the neat explanations offered by Western observers. Much of the thrust of Xin’s analysis has been reported by this newspaper for several years.
Among his most fundamental ideas: The Party is riven. Factionalism inside the Communist Party persists, Xin says, and this plays out in many of the policies and actions taken by elements of the regime, where, Xin contends, it may not be Party leader Xi Jinping himself leading the policy, but instead driven by his opponent, Jiang.
“On the surface, Xi Jinping is the head of the regime and the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party,” Xin said, in an interview with a reporter from SBS, a publicly funded television program in Australia. “In fact, the ruling Party is divided. There are two headquarters in the Party. One is the Party reformists led by Xi; the other, the opponent, led by Jiang Zemin, is an underground headquarters. The anti-graft campaign and tiger hunt represents the fierce struggle of the two headquarters.”
The term “tiger hunt” is a Communist Party phrase that refers to tracking down powerful corrupt officials (“tigers”) and subjecting them to internal Party disciplinary proceedings.
Given his insider status—he was for years the director of the editorial desk at National Defense University, the university of the People’s Liberation Army—Xin gives the impression that some of what he says is his reading of events, while other parts of it are what he is told by those inside the system. No efforts appear to have been made by the authorities to stop him from speaking out this time.
Xin has set forth his analysis of the function of Chinese political factions in his interviews with primarily two media outlets: SBS and its Beijing-based reporter Zhou Li, who has spoken to him five times since the beginning of the year; and New Tang Dynasty Television, a station run by overseas Chinese, which regularly reports about politics and human rights issues in China, and which is a sister media organization to the Epoch Times.
Audio recordings in Mandarin of his interviews with Zhou Li are available on the SBS website; transcripts have also been made of the discussions and published and re-circulated online. NTD seeks his comment on current events with some regularity.
Evidence of Jiang Zemin’s continued influence in Chinese politics can be seen in the composition of the Politburo Standing Committee, Xin says: Three members of the seven-member institution—the most powerful decision-making body in China—are Jiang men. (They are Zhang Dejiang, Liu Yunshan, and Zhang Gaoli.)
“Two different voices are therefore often heard from the seemingly unified central government and Party,” Xin said.
He also attributed recent moves by parts of the security forces—for example, the heavy sentence of dissident writer Tie Liu, and the pressure put on the reformist political journal Yanhuang Chunqiu (China Through the Ages)—to Xi Jinping’s opponents.
This reading of current political dynamics results in conclusions other than what may otherwise be expected—for example on the punishment to be given to former Chinese communist security boss Zhou Yongkang. Zhou was one of the most powerful men in China until late 2012 when he retired from the post.
Xin says that keeping Zhou Yongkang alive by giving him a life sentence to prison was preferable from Xi Jinping’s perspective than executing him.
“I would venture to say this is a misjudgment for not understanding China’s politics,” Xin said in an early July interview with SBS. “In China, Jiang Zemin is the one who wants Zhou to receive the death penalty the most. He wrote a note to the Politburo Standing Committee that clearly expressed this opinion.”
The reason? Because Zhou would be a star witness of the crimes of Jiang Zemin himself, Xin said.
“Because many orders in the persecution of Falun Gong, the live organ harvesting, were directly given by Jiang to Zhou Yongkang. Keeping Zhou Yongkang alive is living evidence of Jiang’s crimes against humanity. This will have great use in the next big battle. The conclusion of the Zhou case is not the end of the anti-corruption and tiger hunt, but the prologue of the grand finale.”
Researchers have since 2006 presented evidence that Chinese security forces and military hospitals have been using Falun Gong practitioners as a live organ bank. Xin Ziling says that these crimes will become increasingly important in Chinese politics as the anti-corruption campaign marches forward. Within a year, Xin says, Xi Jinping will have moved against Jiang’s top henchman, Zeng Qinghong. Jiang Zemin will follow shortly behind, he said.
This view, which accords with much of the reporting by the Epoch Times over the last several years, posits that the significance of the persecution of Falun Gong will gain renewed attention in Chinese politics, nearly 16 years after it was launched.
At that time, the campaign was the biggest security mobilization seen since the Tiananmen Square massacre, and firmly dominated the political scene. Xin contends that the centrality of the campaign—which pitted the Communist Party against 100 million Chinese citizens, many of them Party members, intellectuals, and professionals—has not diminished.
Most tellingly, Xin says, Falun Gong practitioners around China have mostly been left alone as they file criminal complaints against Jiang Zemin through the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, China’s highest public prosecutor, and through the courts.
This, he says, “has never been seen before in Chinese history.” When Wang Jie, a Falun Gong practitioner, attempted the same thing 15 years ago, he was imprisoned and killed. Xin says: “The contrast shows that China is indeed on the eve of big political change.”