Not long after the arrest of Bo Xilai, the recently deposed member of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) elite Politburo, a series of unkind anecdotes began percolating on several websites online, impugning the reputation of the Party’s domestic security czar and known Bo supporter, Zhou Yongkang.
Zhou is a member of the Politburo’s nerve center, the Standing Committee, and as head of the courts, police, the domestic spying apparatus, and the armed police, is one of the most powerful officials in China.
Observers say that the timing and placement of these rumors—whether true or not, though they appear to be plausible—suggests that they may be part of an opening volley by Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the CCP, and Wen Jiabao, state premier, against their most powerful remaining adversary in the communist leadership structure.
On April 12, Boxun.com reported that the wife of ousted Bo, Gu Kailai, had dilvulged information to Party investigators about Zhou’s plan to stage a coup. Boxun is an overseas anticommunist website that has been uncannily accurate in its predictions of the current Party crisis that began unfolding in early February, when Bo Xilai’s trusted lieutenant, Wang Lijun, attempted to defect to an American consulate.
Gu Kailai is herself now under investigation for her role in the death of Englishman Neil Heywood, with whom she had close, and possibly questionable, business dealings. Boxun’s rumor had it that she spilled the beans on Zhou Yongkang when being questioned about her own alleged corrupt activities.
She is reported to have said that Zhou was the main force behind the plan to disrupt the succession of Xi Jinping, the presumed next leader of the CCP. She called Zhou “a scoundrel among the members of the Politburo,” Boxun reported, according to its sources.
Another article on Boxun on the same day said that Zhou Yongkang assisted Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun in establishing personal dossiers on top Party officials, including monitoring their telephones, personal lives, and economic activities. The goal was to use the information as a cudgel in the upcoming leadership transition during the 18th Party Congress in the fall of this year. The use of evidence of corruption to win political battles is an established tactic in communist China.
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Another website, Ming Jing, which is loyal to former regime leader Jiang Zemin, on April 12 also began attacking Zhou Yongkang. Jiang, now understood to be in a vegetative state, was the longtime patron of Zhou, whom he brought up through the ranks because of the latter’s willingness to execute Jiang’s brutal policy of persecuting practitioners of Falun Gong, a popular Chinese spiritual practice.
Ming Jing said that Zhou is suspected of having his first wife killed, and that he was asked to explain himself by other members of the Standing Committee. Zhou was also said to be responsible for the deaths of other people around him, details of which were known by Wang Lijun. Zhou therefore attempted to protect Wang, the Ming Jing post said.
Boxun reported that Zhou will remain a “big target” for taking down before the 18th Party Congress in the fall.
Zhang Tianliang, a political commentator, wrote in a column published in the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times that he believes Zhou’s removal is supported by Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, and Li Keqiang, the latter two of whom are set to be Party leader and premier respectively come autumn. Leaking sordid details of charges against Zhou to overseas Chinese media is one way of weakening his position, Zhang said.
The leadership also appears to have taken more conspicuous steps. A prominent editorial published in Party newspapers on April 12 announces that “the entire military and the Armed Police firmly support the correct decision of the CCP Central Committee.” The military and the Armed Police are administratively separate forces; the former being under the ultimate control of Hu Jintao, the latter, as a domestic force, being under the control of Zhou Yongkang, head of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee.
The fact that the Armed Police were together with the military shown to swear their support to the Hu Jintao line indicates that power has shifted, according to experts. The Armed Police have become an extremely powerful force of over one million troops over the last decade, and are regularly deployed to violently crack down on protests.
Xia Xiaoqiang, a commentator on Chinese politics, said that “We had already seen the army show their loyalty; the Armed Police had not. After Bo Xilai was removed the Armed Police positioned itself. This is a sign that Zhou Yongkang is losing his ground.”
The openness of the struggle, which Party leaders have in the past tried desperately to hide under a facade of stability and institutionalized power transition, raises questions about a smooth hand-over of power later in the year at the 18th Party Congress.
Reuters reported a source on April 11 saying that top leaders were considering delaying the opening of the congress, to sometime closer to March 2013, when the new crop of officials take up their state posts. It would be an unprecedented step. South China Morning Post in an article wondered whether next year the Party would reduce the number of Politburo Standing Committee members from nine to seven.
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