Signs of Infighting Within Chinese Leadership Surface in Leaked Document

March 1, 2021 Updated: March 1, 2021

An ongoing internal struggle exists within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) between Xi Jinping, the head of the regime, and Premier Li Keqiang over their different visions for the Party’s management of the nation’s economy, according to an internal document recently leaked to The Epoch Times.

The confidential circular, issued by the Shijiazhuang City Commission for Discipline Inspection (CDI)—a branch of the CCP’s anti-corruption agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI)—on May 25, 2020, mentioned that the CCDI’s investigation team conducted research earlier that month to “coordinate epidemic prevention and control with economic and social development.”

The document shows the CCDI getting involved in State Council affairs, giving guidance to local authorities on “resumption of work and production.” Li, who has the reins of China’s economy, is the chair of the State Council.

Under Xi, the CCDI has become the CCP’s main watchdog. It has been taking aim at rampant corruption in the CCP—a personal mission of the regime’s leader. Given that most officials are Party members, the CCDI has a wide reach, investigating allegations that include bribery, money laundering, embezzlement of public funds, and other corruption concerns.

But it appears from the confidential circular that the CCDI is no longer limited to that scope.

The document, entitled “Conveying Opinions from the Investigation Team of Commission for Discipline Inspection” was provided to The Epoch Times by an anonymous insider.

Shijiazhuang city’s CDI requests local Party committees to “provide increasing, targeted support” to enterprises, especially the “small and micro ones.” Then, departments of local government are required to “thoroughly communicate the decisions of resuming work and production,” and “shoulder responsibilities in strengthening safety management and maintaining product quality while organizing work resumption and production.”

The requirements set out in the circular are a sign that the CCDI is meddling in the affairs of the State Council, says Li Linyi, a U.S.-based China affairs expert.

Li said issues related to “product quality” and “safety management,” and the investigation of the work on the “resumption of work and production” are supposed to be the job of the State Council, or more specifically, the local government, rather than that of the CCDI.

Even though the CCP dominates the Chinese political system, “to direct and administer economic affairs and urban and rural development” are the areas of the State Council’s power, according to the website of the chief administrative organ.

A Sign of Ambition in CCDI

Epoch Times Photo
The confidential circular, issued by the Shijiazhuang City Commission for Discipline Inspection (CDI)—a branch of the CCP’s anti-corruption agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), on May 25, 2020. (The Epoch Times)

On Jan. 22, the CCDI held its fifth plenary session in Beijing. Xi addressed in the session with a speech that stressed the importance of “ensuring the development goals and tasks of the 14th Five-Year Plan Period (2021–2025) are fulfilled,” according to Xinhua, the CCP’s mouthpiece.

Li pointed out that the “14th Five-Year Plan” focusing on the economy became the priority of the CCDI. The implication is that it has assumed supervision for economic officials, or even state councilors.

Xi’s remark hints that the division of labor between China’s two most powerful men has become blurred.

The CCDI has been a tool to consolidate Xi’s control since he came to power.

“Since its inception in 2012, the [anit-corruption] campaign [led by CCDI] has found over 1.5 million government officials guilty of a variety of corruption-related charges.”

Five former deputy CCDI secretaries were appointed as ministers, or members of the State Council, between November 2016 to January 2017: the Minister of State Security Chen Wenqing, the former Minister of Civil Affairs Huang Shuxian, the former Minister of Supervision Yang Xiaodu, and the former Minister of Justice Zhang Jun.

In December 2020, another deputy secretary moved into the State Council. Chen Xiaojiang was appointed head of the National Ethnic Affairs Commission, a cabinet-level executive department of the State Council.

In addition, Liu He and He Lifeng, both top-ranking members of the State Council, have a long-term connection with Xi.

He Lifeng (pdf), the minister in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission, which is the State Council’s top economic planning agency, is a regular in Xi’s inner circle. His connection with Xi can be traced back to the mid-1980s, when he worked with Xi in the Xiamen municipal government.

Vice Premier Liu He went to school with Xi during the 1960s and is now his closest economic adviser. He’s in charge of China’s economic policies and financial issues as the director of the office serving the Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission of the CCP.

Li seems to be eclipsed by Xi’s amassing of great power.

The political infighting has surfaced several times since May 2020, when Li said at the annual National People’s Congress that at least 600 million Chinese people were living on an income of 1,000 yuan ($155) per month. The revelation was an affront to Xi’s goal of developing China into “a moderately prosperous society.”

Li proposed a “street-stall economy” as a way to spur consumption amid the fallout of the COVID-19 epidemic. It was a policy proposal that triggered a backlash from the party’s mouthpieces.

Authorities in Beijing city, led by Cai Qi, who is close to Xi, cleared away street vendors. It was again a widely recognized sign of discord spilling into the open between Xi and Li.