With Fresh Purges in China’s Security Agencies, Xi Takes on Rival Factions

September 21, 2021 Updated: September 21, 2021

News analysis

On Sept. 10, Chinese former police official Deng Huilin stood trial in the northern city of Baoding. Accused of accepting bribes, the former head of public security in Chongqing, a southwestern megalopolis of 23 million people, pleaded guilty and expressed remorse for his actions.

Deng was one among thousands of other security officials taken down in Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, which had seen the expulsion of retired internet censorship boss Peng Bo from the Communist Party on Aug. 17, following a months long investigation.

The recent purges of Deng, Peng, and others appear as a continuation of Xi’s protracted struggle to eliminate or reduce the influence of factions that have undermined his authority since he assumed office in 2012.

The day before Deng’s trial, Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC) secretary-general Chen Yixin exhorted branches of the powerful Party organization to look out for “eight shortcomings and weaknesses” within their ranks.

One point Chen stressed was the need to “thoroughly purge” the “poisonous influence” of disgraced Chinese Communist Party (CCP) security bosses, including former vice police ministers Sun Lijun and Meng Hongwei, as well as the infamous former central PLAC head Zhou Yongkang.

Chongqing, where Deng also served as deputy mayor, is the city run by former CCP Politburo member Bo Xilai from 2007 until his downfall in 2012.

Bo’s trial and sentencing in 2013 kicked off Beijing’s anti-corruption campaign, which, within a few years, saw the arrests and trials of multiple high-ranking CCP members, including Zhou. His life imprisonment in June 2015 marked the first time a member of the Politburo Standing Committee—the handful of men who run the Communist Party—was officially investigated and sentenced.

Education and Rectification

On Sept. 11, the Ministry of Public Security’s CCP branch announced the creation of a “leading group” for retired police officials so as to “further strengthen and improve” the “unity and cohesion” of former cadres from the Ministry.

Two days later, Chen’s PLAC colleague, Guo Shengkun, stressed that the organization’s work units and “leading officials” shoulder “major political responsibility” in the ongoing “education and rectification” campaign.

The campaign, which includes the “eight shortcomings and weaknesses” stressed by Chen on Sept. 9, was launched in July 2020, weeks after the investigation of Deng Huilin.

That year also saw the investigation of former vice-public security chief Sun Lijun, as well as the sentencing of Meng Hongwei, who had held the same position. Meng had been serving as Interpol chief when he was abruptly arrested in September 2018.

Epoch Times Photo
Peng Bo, the deputy director of China’s secret state police, in a photo released by Peking University. Bo has been dismissed and is now under investigation in Beijing, the Chinese regime announced. (Screenshot/Peking University)

Peng Bo, the deputy head of the cyberspace administration, which oversees China’s internet, was investigated in March. The CCP’s disciplinary authorities claimed that “his ideals and beliefs had collapsed,” that he “lost his political principles,” and that he “had deviated from Party Central’s decisions.” Additionally, Peng took bribes and frequently visited nightclubs.

On Sept. 14, an internet personality using the name Shang Xian Lao Hou published a circular on China’s NetEase platform claiming links between Deng Huilin and former Jiangsu Provincial Public Security Bureau police official Luo Wenjin, who was also investigated in March.

According to the blogger, Deng and Luo, both from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, had illicit dealings with each other, with Luo using his influence to form a “judicial mafia” in Jiangsu, a city in eastern China.

Additionally, the two had “improper discussions of Party Central’s major policies,” and “insulted key national leaders.”

The circular further noted that Luo’s former superior “had interactions” with Wang Lijun, a former police chief in Chongqing who in February 2012 attempted to defect to the American consulate in Chengdu after a falling-out with his boss Bo Xilai.

China watchers believe the “Wang Lijun incident” alerted Beijing to an attempt by Bo, Zhou Yongkang, and other powerful officials to subvert Xi’s rise in power.

Epoch Times Photo
Bo Xilai, former Chongqing party chief, in March of 2010. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

Political Struggle

A common thread between most of the security officials purged by Xi Jinping is their links to former CCP leader Jiang Zemin.

According to a Feb. 16 Wall Street Journal report, “Many of Mr. Jiang’s allies have been purged in Mr. Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.” But “he remains a force behind the scenes.”

Notably, Zhou Yongkang, Sun Lijun, and Peng Bo were all leading cadres of the 610 Office, a powerful extralegal agency created by Jiang to coordinate police and propaganda assets in the persecution of Falun Gong and other faith groups.

In the case of Peng, his status as deputy head of the central 610 Office between 2015 and 2017 was only made public in the notice in March announcing his investigation. Prior to serving in the 610 Office, Peng was deputy director of the Cyberspace Security Administration (CAC). Lu Wei, head of the CAC during Peng’s stint there and another official associated with the Jiang faction, was investigated in 2017 and sentenced in 2019.

Ming Chu-cheng, emeritus professor of political science at National Taiwan University, noted in the local television program “Era Money” that the influence of Zhou Yongkang and his allies was a threat to Xi and his predecessor Hu Jintao, who long struggled with Jiang for authority in the CCP.

“When Hu Jintao struggled against Bo Xilai, he went after Zhou Yongkang. Why? Because Zhou was head of the PLAC, which had the power to deploy Armed Police.”

Ming said that the PLAC was empowered to deploy thousands of Armed Police—internal security troops with equipment comparable to the regular Chinese army— without first notifying Beijing.

Ming, who makes frequent appearances in Taiwanese media, has highlighted the long-term threats Xi faces to his power, including those from the Jiang faction, disgruntled civil and military officials impacted by the anti-corruption campaign and force restructuring, and the financial community.

Another source of resentment of Xi, as Ming noted on the “Era Money” program on Sept. 9, are the princelings or children of founding CCP leaders, a group that Xi himself belongs to.

All this increases the challenges to Xi as he prepares to take a third term at an upcoming leadership reshuffle of the CCP, to be held in late 2022.

“Next year they’re holding the 20th Party Congress, so factional struggle will increase steadily and come to the fore,” Ming said.

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

Leo Timm
Leo Timm is a freelance contributor to The Epoch Times. He covers Chinese politics, culture, and current affairs.