A highly irregular event is unfolding in Hong Kong: a local newspaper, aligned with Beijing, is waging front page attacks against the top Chinese official in charge of the city.
Sing Pao Daily News ran scathing indictments of Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Dejiang on its front page for four days between Sept. 29 and Oct. 4, at a time when Zhang is already under enormous pressure in China over a corruption scandal in his other portfolio, the national legislature. Zhang Dejiang heads both the National People’s Congress and the Communist Party’s commission overseeing the semi-autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
Sing Pao’s efforts to smear Zhang included linking him to a political clique, inside the Communist Party, that it holds responsible for Hong Kong’s recent troubles. Zhang has long suspected of being a rival of Xi Jinping, the Party leader.
Given the highly unusual nature of Sing Pao’s attacks, the history leading up to them, and the current political climate, it is likely that they are part of Xi Jinping’s multi-pronged efforts to ensure that Zhang makes no false moves ahead of a key political meeting to be held at the end of October, where Xi needs the Party leadership to support his political agenda.
‘Hong Kong’s Calamity’
The Sing Pao commentaries on Zhang Dejiang are written under a pseudonym; they claim that he has “brought calamity to Hong Kong” for the past 13 years.
Zhang, Sing Pao writes, is responsible for the massive pro-democracy protests that broke out in Hong Kong in 2014; he covered up the deadly SARS epidemic in nearby Guangdong Province and allowed the disease to spread to Hong Kong where it killed hundreds; he introduced the mainland’s corrupt practices into the city by beefing up the Party’s presence there; and he violently suppressed a protest in Guangdong’s Dongzhou Village, “the first such instance since the 1989 ‘June 4th’ incident,” Sing Pao asserts, a reference to the 1989 massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
But Zhang was never made to answer for his “errors,” Sing Pao complains, because he has been “hiding under the umbrella of Jiang Zemin,” the former Party leader. “Because Zhang Dejiang is being supported by Jiang Zemin, he escapes accountability.”
While the veracity of the information in Sing Pao’s acerbic hit pieces is questionable, its intent of calling out Zhang Dejiang and his political client Jiang Zemin is unmistakable—and highly politically charged.
Given that Jiang Zemin, the paramount leader of the Communist Party from 1989 until 2002, is believed to still wield enormous influence, it would be impossible for Sing Pao to run such articles without having its own high-level protector, analysts say.
Sing Pao’s owner “must have political backing… otherwise he is courting death,” said Luo Yu, a former senior Chinese military officer and son of founding revolutionary Luo Ruiqing, on a news analysis program on international Chinese language broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television.
Gu Zhuoheng, the mainland Chinese businessman behind the paper, has already claimed to be a target for “revenge-driven political attack” since taking over Sing Pao in 2015 because “he would not submit to a ‘certain power’,” according to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.
Heng He, a China analyst and columnist for Epoch Times, says that the Sing Pao must be “acting on orders” and have received “high-level support from Zhongnanhai” to be allowed to publish their commentaries on Zhang Dejiang, given that the paper is associated with the regime.
“The Chinese Communist Party would otherwise never allow media associated with it to issue such peculiar opinions,” he said.
Heng He suspects that Sing Pao is backed by Party anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan, pointing to a Sept. 29 article by the official magazine of the anti-corruption agency which cited an assessment by Sing Pao as evidence of corruption in the Chinese regime.
Wang is the ally of Party leader Xi Jinping. The anti-corruption campaign launched by Xi and overseen by Wang is aimed at eliminating the powerful political faction helmed by Jiang Zemin, and for Xi to consolidate his control over the regime.
Keeping in Line
Since early September, key elements of Jiang’s faction have been served warnings.
On Sept. 10, Huang Xingguo, the acting Party Secretary of Tianjin, was suddenly purged. Huang is the ally of Zhang Gaoli, a Politburo Standing Committee member and Jiang loyalist.
Then on Sept. 20, respected Chinese financial magazine Caixin exposed Chinese recycling tycoon Chen Guangbiao as a fraud, and named purged officials Li Dongsheng and Ling Jihua as his political backers. Li was formerly the chief of a Gestapo-like organization that oversaw Jiang Zemin’s brutal persecution of Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese spiritual practice. Ling, who once headed the Party’s secretive General Office, is known to have worked with the disgraced security czar Zhou Yongkang, another key lieutenant of Jiang.
Zhang Dejiang met with scrutiny before Sing Pao Daily started publishing their commentaries. On Sept. 13, the Liaoning provincial authorities removed 45 out of its 102 delegates to the National People’s Congress for vote buying. Analysts say that the move is aimed at Liaoning native Zhang, who is the head of the regime’s national legislature.
The raft of actions against Jiang’s people come ahead of the 6th Plenum, an important Party meeting from Oct. 24 to Oct. 27 where Xi Jinping and the top leadership will discuss the “discipline” of “high-level cadres in the Central Committee, the Politburo, and the Politburo Standing Committee.”