The Power Behind the Scenes in the Chinese Regime

April 16, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
17th Chinese Communist Party Congress
The 17th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress on October 21, 2007 in Beijing. The little known Political and Legislative Affairs Committee has become a second center of power. (Guang Niu/Getty Images)

Soap operas with their long story lines and complicated plots are very popular in China. Many Chinese bloggers joke on the Internet that the longest, but also dullest, soap opera in China is Chinese state television CCTV’s daily evening news. Every ten years, the long-term protagonists, in this case, the members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the CCP, should be replaced. As in a real soap opera, the rare change of leading men is followed with great attention by its audience.

The audience ratings of the evening news show have been rising since early March. The increase has been especially significant since the former Party chief of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, has been removed from his post. “The viewers wait eagerly for the daily evening news to see which of the senior party leaders appears on TV and which ones don’t,” commented a blogger on the Chinese news portal Sina.

In fact, the rigidly structured CCTV evening news with tedious stories on the activities of Chinese leaders reveals much of the political struggle forming behind the scenes. On March 9, for example, the Chongqing Municipality unexpectedly invited media representatives to a press conference. Then Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai for the first time took position on his former police chief, Wang Lijun. Wang had sought refuge at the American Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, apparently fearing Bo meant to silence him.

Bo took this opportunity in front of the cameras to show his strong alliance to a powerful political organ in China. He said the success of the fight against crime and corruption in Chongqing was a result of cooperation between police, prosecutors, courts, the judiciary and the State Security Department under the leadership of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC).

Bo’s disclosure reveals the fact that the PLAC holds immense power. It stands above the prosecution, the courts, and the secret police, controlling the 1.5 million-strong Armed Police and the 1.7 million army of regular police. It is headed by Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CCP and a close confidant of former president Jiang Zemin.

In looking at the organization of the PLAC, one sees the extent of its grip on the country and how far from independent the justice system in China really is. Along with Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu, who is deputy secretary of the Commission, other members include the president of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, the Minister for State Security, the Justice Minister and the commander of the Armed Police. At the top stands Zhou Yongkang, also known as China’s “Intelligence-Czar.”

Jiang Zemin the Manipulator

The outside world has until now paid very little attention to the Party organ PLAC. It was first founded in 1980 but dissolved eight years later. In 1990 it was formed again, following the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989. At that time the CCP felt the need for tightening control over the country. With the establishment of branches in each province, region and even county, the Commission grew to an interprovincial apparatus. One of its main tasks is to ensure the security and stability of one-party rule in China.

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On July 20, 1999, China’s former President Jiang Zemin lauched the brutal persecution against the spiritual movement Falun Gong. At that time, Falun Gong practitioners numbered in the tens of millions and their growing number aroused envy and fear in Jiang. For the purpose of this persecution, the now infamous 610 Office was set up, working in close cooperation with the PLAC.

Since the start of the persecution against Falun Gong, the PLAC has been run like a private enterprise for Jiang, who ensured this killer machine was equipped with ample financial resources. The Commission’s power has grown from day to day over the past 12 years. In 2002, when Jiang Zemin reached the age limit of 68 years which forced him to leave the political stage, his condition for resigning was that 67 year old Luo Gan, then head of the Commission, would gain a place in the Standing Committee of the CCP Politburo, the top leadership within the CCP. In 2007, Luo Gan was replaced by Zhou Yongkang, the former minister for Public Safety.

The PLAC had thus reached the highest political level in China, earning the title of “Party headquarters No. 2”. It currently represents the main contender for power to current President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

End of the First Episode, Beginning of Episode 2

Due to its position of power, the top job at the Commission is fiercely contested. Only months ago, Bo Xilai was being tipped as the successor to Zhou Yongkang. With his comet-like fall from grace in China’s political sky, the first episode of the political soap opera has ended this year.

The second episode began with a training for the 3,300 chairmen of PLAC’s different branches, convened by President Hu Jintao shortly after the dismissal of Bo Xilai. The first training course started on March 26, during Hu’s visit to the nuclear summit in South Korea. This step appears to be designed as a safety measure for Hu, who may be looking to bring the core of Zhou Yongkang’s power structure under his own control.

The cards will be mixed anew before the upcoming change of the Chinese leadership in October. The next episode of the political soap opera in China is expected to contain more exciting outcomes. The Epoch Times will be reporting.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.