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Xi Seeks to Quell Internal Rebellion
Faction of former top Chinese cop threatening Xi
A faction linked to a disgraced former senior Chinese police official is posing such a serious threat to Chinese President Xi Jinping that China’s Ministry of Public Security has formed a team to crush it. This faction may possibly be attempting a coup against Xi, judging by the urgency with which the Public Security Ministry is seeking to nip this rebellion.
The former official is Sun Lijun (above), previously vice minister of Public Security. Before his downfall around April 2020, Sun was the most senior Chinese official overseeing Hong Kong when the city was rocked by protests in 2019 and 2020. He is believed to be responsible for the abduction and transfer to mainland China of five people associated with a dissident bookstore in Hong Kong in 2015 and 2016.
Although Sun has been under detention since 2020, the Public Security Ministry has formed a special group to “eradicate the poisonous influence of the political faction of Sun Lijun,” the ministry announced at a meeting dedicated to this task on January 24.
Although Xi appears to be unassailable, having amassed arguably the most power since Mao Zedong assumed power, it is clear he is taking the matter very seriously. He has generated considerable antagonism within the Chinese bureaucracy with his nine-year anti-corruption campaign, which has led to the jailing of more than 120 high-ranking officials including generals, senior executives of state-owned companies, and former top-ranking leaders.
Ironically, the hostility against Xi arising from his anti-graft crackdown probably engendered more insecurity for the Chinese leader, who in turn recently accelerated the intensity of the anti-corruption campaign. On January 26 alone, the official Chinese anticorruption website announced Zhou Jiangyong, former party secretary of Hangzhou, and He Xingxiang, a former vice president of China Development Bank, were expelled from the party for corruption, while several other officials were under investigation.
The Public Security Ministry has acknowledged the existence of a faction within the ministry which is rebelling against Xi and dividing the Chinese Communist Party. Its announcement said the political faction of Sun “seriously wrecked the unity of the party, seriously endangers the political security of the party and country, severely damaged the image of the party and the party’s hold on power, and also seriously harmed the political environment of the Public Security apparatus.”
Over the next few months, several public security officials, including senior officials, will be apprehended, a risk consultant told Asia Sentinel. In its announcement, the Public Security Ministry asked its various departments to form their own teams “as soon as possible” to unite in eliminating the faction associated with Sun. The ministry ordered its officials to thoroughly investigate people and cases to eradicate political risks, and if they were not thorough in their investigations, they would be severely held to account. The urgency of this call raises the question as to whether the rebel faction is attempting a coup soon.
This is a message to officials who are not loyal to Xi to align themselves with the Chinese leader or face consequences, said the risk consultant, who declined to be named.
“It is clear Sun is only one part of a much larger cell working in concert to take out Xi,” an analyst told Asia Sentinel. “I was very recently told that a vicious internal conflict is playing out,” the analyst said, adding the reports came from “totally separate people.”
“I also heard huge sums of money are pouring out of China from senior people and business leaders. Money is a coward and will always flee trouble. The increased tempo of those in China trying to get their money out is a harbinger of things to come,” disclosed the analyst, who declined to be named.
The Public Security Ministry, in its announcement, called on its officials to ensure a trouble-free 20th party congress scheduled for this fall. At this congress, Xi is expected to give himself a third term, which will break the two-term limit on Chinese presidents set by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
“There is a diminishing window of time for the enemies of Xi to make their move, as once the next meeting is over and Xi has demonstrated his dominance as leader, he will consolidate and likely double down on his policies,” the analyst said.
An article from the Jamestown Foundation, a conservative US-based think tank, on January 25 said, “Factional rivalry and internecine bickering within the 95 million-strong Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has become so apparent that usually circumspect propaganda outlets are no longer shy about airing dirty laundry in public.”
The competing cliques include the Shanghai Faction, also called the Shanghai Gang, led by former Chinese President Jiang Zemin and former Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong, the Communist Youth League Faction headed by former Chinese President Hu Jintao, and princelings (descendants of first-generation Chinese Communist leaders) who do not think highly of Xi and oppose his bid for an extra term at the 20th party congress, said the article written by Willy Wo-Lap Lam, a Jamestown senior fellow.
An article in the December 2021 issue of the official China Discipline and Supervision Journal titled “The Party has Become Stronger Through Revolutionary Training” candidly testifies to the high degree of antagonism among different CCP cliques, said the Jamestown Foundation article.
The Journal article said, “There are self-righteous cadres… who openly express views contrary to the [central party authorities] …. Some cadres refuse to obey orders.”
Xi’s most bitter power struggle with his rivals is evidenced by his purge of the political and legal apparatus which includes the Ministry of Public Security, wrote Lam, adding that on the surface, Xi seemed to have clinched a victory earlier this month when he installed his long-term underling Wang Xiaohong as Party Secretary and Vice Minister of the Public Security Ministry, but the Public Security Minister remains Zhao Kezhi, “who is hardly a favorite of Xi.”
Furthermore, some mid-to-senior Public Security officials remain loyal to Minister Zhao including Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission Guo Shengkun and Guo’s predecessor Meng Jianzhu, Lam added. The Central and Legal Affairs Commission oversees all law enforcement institutions in China including the Public Security Ministry.
Zhao, Guo, and Meng are considered important members of the Shanghai Faction and are associated with the Shanghai Faction’s top leaders such as former Vice President Zeng, Lam wrote.
Sun is allied to the Shanghai Gang, which is seeking to oust Xi, Asia Sentinel reported on October 2, 2021. He was announced to be under investigation in April 2020. On January 13, the official Chinese anti-corruption website announced Sun has been charged with taking bribes, manipulating stock markets and illegal possession of guns. The accusation of market manipulation is believed to point to his role in the sharp decline in the bourses of Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong in the latter half of 2015. This implies Sun was part of a syndicate, because as a police officer with little financial expertise, he alone could not have brought down the markets. The charge of illegal possession of guns suggests the possibility that Sun might have been plotting violent acts.
Many mid-ranking and senior cadres in China, whether from the police department or not, have large caches of weapons in their homes, and many of them even have “private armies,” said a professor who declined to be named.
On January 15, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV aired the first episode of a five-part television documentary on corruption titled “Zero tolerance.” The first episode featured Sun confessing to taking bribes and forming a political clique, which is ironic since it is normally police officials like Sun who arrange public confessions. That episode named former senior police officials who have been taken down for corruption, like Fu Zhenghua (a former Public Security vice minister and former Justice Minister) and Gong Dao’an (a former Public Security head of Shanghai).
The documentary left out a crucial piece, where Sun once served as secretary to Meng Jianzhu after the latter became the Minister of Public Security in 2007, wrote Wang Xiangwei in a South China Morning Post column on January 22. Sun’s career and influence grew fastest between 2012 and 2017 when Meng was China’s highest-ranking official in charge of law and order, added Wang, a former chief editor of the Hong Kong newspaper.
Over the past few years, Xi removed four vice ministers of Public Security including Sun, said the professor. “But there is suspicion that cadres higher up the political security chain of command and the Shanghai Faction might be the real masterminds.”
Several sources in mainland China refused to comment on the political situation in Beijing. They are too scared to speak because the current situation is volatile and something dramatic may happen in the near future, the risk consultant explained.