This is a follow up report on my last analysis on the CCP’s 20th National Congress.
In that episode, I pointed out that the Standing Committee of the Presidium of the 20th National Congress of the CCP is the thing to watch for, since it is the highest ruling body of the party during the transition period when the old Central Committee has ended its work but the new Central Committee has not been elected. This Committee has the authority to propose special motions, for example, raise certain issues for the National Congress to discuss. This could potentially pose uncertainty and danger for Xi Jinping since the political elders could express concerns over Xi Jinping’s policies for the Party to discuss.
So who will be elected to this Standing Committee becomes very important. If the composition pattern of the Standing Committee remains unchanged, it will mean Xi is not worried that any of these people will raise dissenting opinions against him. It will also mean he does not dare or seek to change this long standing tradition of the Party.
The Standing Committee of the Presidium of the 20th National Congress was “elected” on the 15th, the day before the opening of the 20th National Congress. The result is that everything stayed the same. The composition pattern of the Standing Committee is unchanged.
There are 46 members in the Standing Committee of the Presidium of the 20th National Congress. 7 current/outgoing Politburo Standing Committee members, 18 current/outgoing Politburo members, 18 older Politburo Standing Committee members (political elders), Vice Chairman of the PRC, Secretary of the Central Secretariat, First Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
However, according to the official photo released by the People’s Daily, the political elders did not appear in the rostrum where the rest of the Standing Committee members sat during their first meeting. It is likely they did not physically attend the meeting.
All of these points to Xi’s path to a 3rd term is clear.
Simone Gao: Whenever there is a lot of red in China’s news media, you know something important is happening. It is either the Chinese New Year or an important political event. In this case, it is the prelude of the Chinese Communist Party or CCP’s 20th National Congress-The Seventh Plenary Session of the 19th CCP Central Committee.
Don’t get confused by their long names. The whole 20th National Congress of the CCP has one core mission that matters to the world: Xi Jinping’s so-called re-election into the top leader position of the Party and the country. So Let’s just call it Xi’s re-election conference.
The conventional wisdom is that Xi has subdued his opposition and will get a third term as the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, chairman of the Central Military Commission, and president of the People’s Republic of China, an incident that would violate the Communist Party’s long standing rule of top leadership’s serving only two terms. Nevertheless, Xi would most likely get his way. But just a few days ago, this gentleman, Gao Wenqian, an expert on the history of the Chinese Communist Party, revealed an important detail that he thinks could change Xi Jinping’s fate at the last minute.
What is it? It is the formation of a small committee whose lifespan is about 10 days.
This committee is called the Standing Committee of the Presidium of the 20th National Congress. It is the highest decision-making body during the Party Congress. Decisions on major matters must first be decided by the Standing Committee, then communicated to the Presidium, and then to all the delegates.
Why does this matter? You see, by the time the previous Central Committee has ended its work, the new Central Committee has not yet been elected. During this short period, who will lead the Party? Not Xi Jinping since he is the General Secretary of the Party elected by the outgoing Central Committee. It is this standing Committee of the Presidium which is elected by the outgoing central committee. It will preside over things during the Party’s congress until the new Central Committee is elected. In other words, Xi Jinping will not be in total control of the Party during those 10 days. This committee should be announced on October 15, the day before the opening of the 20th National Congress.
But… wait a minute, the Communist Party never has real elections, so can Xi decide who will be “elected” into the Standing Committee of the Presidium? Well, here is the thing.
Based on the Party’s precedent, the Standing Committee of the Presidium has a certain fixed composition of members which contains past, current and future members of the Politburo Standing Committee and some current politburo members and other high ranking officials. The Politburo Standing Committee is the Party’s highest ruling body so its members are considered the ones who really govern the country.
Keeping that in mind, now let’s see who is in the Standing Committee of the Presidium for the 17th National Congress right before Xi became the top leader.
It consists of 41 members. 7 from the future or upcoming politburo standing committee, 9 from the current or outgoing politburo standing committee, 12 from the earlier Politburo standing committees, and 15 from the current lower level politburo and other departments.
Xi Jinping is most concerned with the members from the past Politburo Standing Committees. These people are called political elders and there are quite a few of them who oppose Xi.
What could these opponents do? According to the CCP’s rules, the Standing Committee of the Presidium performs a range of functions including studying the major issues related to the conference, and submitting opinions to the conference presidium for discussion and decision. In other words, they have the right to submit special motions for the Central Committee to discuss. This is where unexpected things could happen, and things similar in nature have happened in the past.
In 1978, right before the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee , A Politburo Standing Committee member Chen Yun raised some controversial issues regarding the Cultural Revolution. His remarks had wide resonance which led to the change of the original agenda for the conference. The conference was prolonged to 36 days, during which the theoretical foundation of then Chairman of the Party Hua Guofeng （华国锋）was criticized; multiple political figures have been rehabilitated. Not long after the conference, Hua’s power was replaced by Deng Xiaoping. China entered a new era.
What a terrifying example for Xi Jinping and there are more in the CCP’s history! According to historian Gao Wenqian, the essence of such events is that when the elders of the Party gather together, it is very hard to stop them from voicing their opinion. If one person raises his hand, can you not let him speak? If his remarks have resonance, things could get out of control. The Standing Committee of the Presidium could propose a special motion for the National Congress to discuss certain issues.
And there are many issues people would like to discuss regarding Xi’s policy. The collapse of the Sino-U.S. relations, the questionable alliance of China and Russia; the notorious zero-covid policy and the failing of the Chinese economy, to name just a few. However…
Guess what? If you and I have thought about these scenarios, I guarantee you Xi Jinping has thought about them too. In fact, Xi has made thorough preparations to avoid such surprises.
In May, 2022, the General Office of the CCP Central Committee issued an Opinion that pointed out the necessity to ensure that retired cadres, especially Party members who have held leadership positions, continue to listen to the Party’s words, follow the Party’s words, and consciously align with the Party Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core. The Opinion specifically forbade arbitrary discussion of the major policies of the Party, spreading of negative political remarks, and participating in activities of illegal organizations.
This is to prevent the political elders from getting together to plot against Xi Jinping. It is reported that eavesdropping of these people is prevalent. They don’t dare to talk about sensitive things over the phone. If they had no preparations, no communications beforehand, would they improvise such a high risk operation at the meeting in a concerted effort? I highly doubt it. But historian Gao Wenqian seems hopeful. He said among the political elders, some of them are from Xi’s father’s generation. Some of them promoted him, others did him huge favors, still others hold strong opposing views on Xi’s policies. So this is a group of people Xi has a hard time dealing with.
Another preemptive move from Xi’s side is to make the Party incorporate the so-called Two Establishments into an important Party resolution last November. What are the Two Establishments? They are Establishing Comrade Xi Jinping as the core of the Party Central Committee and the core of the whole Party, and establishing the guiding position of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.
Narration: This resolution was passed by the last Plenary Session of the 19th CCP Central Committee. In other words, it was adopted by the same group of people who will attend the upcoming 7th Plenary Session. What does that mean? It means if Xi Jinping’s position and Xi Jinping’s guiding thoughts were to be changed or altered, the same group of people not only denied themselves, but also would need to bear responsibilities for making such a mistake to adopt the Two Establishments in the first place. That will mean the dysfunction of the CCP as a whole. Therefore, such an outcome will turn out to be highly unlikely. In fact, the Two Establishments and some other doctrines that aim to establish Xi’s permanent leadership position will be written into the Party Constitution during the 20th National Congress. That will pave the way for Xi to get a life-long tenure.
According to the Communiqué of the 7th Plenary Session of the CCP Central Committee, The Party will continue to unite around the Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core. This is an indication that Xi will get a third term. But the Standing Committee of the Presidium of the 20th National Congress is still the thing to watch for. If the number of political elders is reduced, it will mean Xi has changed the rules once again, but it also shows Xi is concerned about them. If there is no change to the composition pattern of the Standing Committee, it could mean Xi is confident that there will be no surprises. It could also mean Xi does not have the authority to change this long standing tradition of the Party. In either case, its implications will only be revealed after the 20th National Congress.
Simone: No, no, no, no, still no, Putin and Xi Jinping’s meeting did not make it to the picture headlines of the People’s Daily, China’s largest government owned newspaper.
Did the People’s Daily report their meeting at all? Ok, here it is, hmmm, there is no video, and no pictures. I wonder if Xi’s other meeting reports don’t have photos either.
Oops, other meetings have videos; that’s because China Central Television, the country’s largest government owned TV station reported them. Only Putin’s meeting with Xi was not carried by CCTV.
What’s going on? What happened between Xi Jinping and Putin?
Xi Jinping visited ex-Soviet Uzbekistan on September 15 for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. That was Xi’s first overseas visit since the pandemic began almost three years ago. The highlight of the summit was supposed to be his meeting with Russian president Putin, whom Xi has called a good friend, an old friend and a true friend, and maybe now the only friend.
But the much-anticipated warm interaction didn’t happen. Xi obviously kept some distance from this old friend. Putin in his opening statement in his meeting with Xi said: “We appreciate our Chinese friends’ balanced position in connection with the Ukraine crisis. We understand your questions and your concerns in this regard. During today’s meeting we will certainly explain in detail our position on this issue, although we have spoken about this before.”
Let me try to explain what he really meant: “My dear friend, I didn’t want to accuse you of not helping enough. I completely understand your situation and concerns. However, you should still help me. And this is why.”
We don’t know what Putin actually discussed with Xi Jinping because the rest of the meeting was muted. But we do know that Xi rushed to the airport the minute the summit was over. It really didn’t seem Xi was too enthusiastic about this whole thing.
However, the day after Xi went back to Beijing. Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, arrived in China on a working visit. He met with the CCP’s Central Committee Politburo member Yang Jiechi.
One of the main messages he conveyed was that based on the agreement between Putin and Xi, the priority in Russian-Chinese relations is to work consistently to strengthen their strategic link.
More specifically, he said “The parties agreed on further cooperation between the military departments with an emphasis on joint exercises and patrols, as well as on strengthening contacts between the general staffs. Mutual interest was expressed in maintaining a high level of military-technical cooperation.”
And a day after that, Putin did this.
Putin: I think it is necessary to support the Ministry of Defense and the general staff to conduct a partial military mobilization in Russia. We have no moral right to hand over our loved ones to the executioners, we can not fail to respond to their sincere desire to determine their own fate…and have asked us, Russia to help.
Simone: And lastly, he warned the West that In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of the country and to defend the Russian people, they will use all weapon systems available including, he implied, the nuclear weapons.
This partial mobilization will call up 300,000 reserve troops. But there is a problem. Wasn’t Russia running out of weapons and ammunition already? If they get another 300,000 troops on the battlefield, what are these soldiers going to fight with? And do they have the money to support this operation? Hmmm, this escalation took place right after Putin met Xi Jinping in Uzbekistan, which followed by a ministerial level meeting that discussed among other things, further cooperation between the military departments of the two countries. Could Xi be backing Putin up after all?
This guy is more important than Patrushev and Yang Jiechi combined when it comes to China-Russia relationships because he is the number three guy in China.
His name is Li Zhanshu, chairman of China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee. By the way, China’s People’s Congress is not like the congress in democratic countries. The representatives are not elected through a real democratic process, but rather, are nominated by government officials. This doesn’t mean the People’s Congress does not have power, it does. It legislates just like Congress in America. Only, the legislation reflects the wills of the Party leaders, not the Chinese people. Anyway, Li Zhanshu is the head of the People’s Congress. And he also ranked third in the Party’s seven Politburo Standing Committee, THE top ruling body in China. Last but not least, he is a Xi Jinping confidant.
Li Zhanshu went to Russia right before Putin and Xi Jinping’s meeting at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. He delivered a key message to his Russian counterpart that the “strategic coordination” between the two countries had “reached an unprecedented level,” According to Russia’s State Duma, Li told Russian legislators that “China understands and supports Russia on issues that represent its vital interests, in particular on the situation in Ukraine.” and that China is providing its assistance.
The English word assistance doesn’t reflect the exact meaning of “策应”. “策应” is more than just assistance. It is support by coordinated action, most commonly used in a military context.
Li Zhanshu’s promise was not improvised. His choice of words must have been discussed and decided by the Politburo Standing Committee. Therefore, it represented the top Chinese leadership’s decision although they don’t want to make it as public as the Russian media did. Li Zhanshu’s mention of supporting Russia over the Ukrainian war was cut from the Chinese media’s readout, just like the severe downgrade of the report on Xi’s meeting with Putin. But why? Who is the Chinese Communist Party hiding this information from?
The CCP hid it from its own people more than anyone else. Russia had just lost 6000 square km of occupied land in Ukraine. Forming an alliance with a loser is particularly sensitive for Xi Jinping now.
The party’s 20th National Congress will be held in October this year. Xi Jinping’s top priority is to be elected smoothly into the position of General Secretary of the Party for the third time. Anything obstructing this goal will need to be eliminated. He strives to be possibly entitled “the people’s leader of China”, on the same footing as Mao Zedong, at this conclave. He can’t afford to be closely associated with someone who is incompetent and could potentially bring trouble to China. Public opinion could turn very negative, even with heavy handed censorship. Xi does not lack opponents in China. They are watching carefully for loopholes in Xi to destroy him. Xi can not give them that opportunity. He also didn’t want to stir up more trouble for himself with America and the West right before the 20th National Congress. American sanctions could incur serious internal criticism against him.
This is why he couldn’t support Russia openly. But with Li Zhanshu’s promise and Patrushev’s follow up trip to China, you can be sure that China’s support to Russia will continue if not increase. One area mentioned in Patrushev’s statement is further cooperation between the two militaries with an emphasis on joint exercises and patrols.
Why joint military exercises? A joint exercise could serve multiple purposes. And one of them could be this: If the exercise is conducted on the Sino-Russian border or in Russia. Could China conveniently bring a large number of weapons to Russia? And after the exercise, what about leaving a portion of them for their Russian friends?
This video was filmed by Russian citizens in Vladivostok a few weeks ago. A long fleet of Chinese military vehicles were seen driving in the city. What’s inside of these vehicles? We don’t know. But we do know that starting from September 1st, Russia held a week-long military exercise at seven firing ranges in Russia’s Far East and the Sea of Japan and involved more than 50,000 troops and over 5,000 weapons units, including 140 aircraft and 60 warships. The participating parties include several ex-Soviet nations, China, India, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Syria.
If the Chinese military does leave weapons to the Russians, Russia could theoretically claim they bought them from North Korea who bought them from China before. In fact, according to the Guardian, the Biden administration officials earlier this month confirmed a declassified US intelligence assessment that North Korea was in the process of selling arms to Russia in violation of UN security council sanctions banning Pyongyang from importing or exporting weapons. North Korea denied such sales.
Another area as mentioned in Patrushev’s statement is the military-tech cooperation between the two countries. I talked to a veteran Chinese air force officer about this and asked what this military-tech cooperation could be. He told me that China has been relying on Russia’s military doctrines and technologies since the P.R.C. was formed. And that has lasted ‘til today.
Russia could provide advanced technologies to China in exchange for money, equipment and components. It is highly suspected that China already supports Russia through disguised civil trade, such as selling electronics including chips. A lot of those chips used in consumer electronics can also be transferred to weapons. China could also transfer weapons or other materials to Russia via a third party, for example, a country in the Shanghai Cooperation organization.
I read this interesting report from Aid Data, a research lab at William & Mary. It was released in 2021 and it says that China’s contracts contain unusually broad confidentiality clauses, which prevent borrowers from revealing the terms or sometimes even the existence of the loans. The researchers also found that China’s contracts have become more secretive over time, with a confidentiality clause in every contract in the dataset since 2014.
Could China support Russia via these secretive contracts? We definitely can’t rule out the possibility. But what if America finds out and sanctions China? Well, first of all, it is hard to find out given the secrecy of these contracts. Secondly, I don’t think China cares that much since China assumes America is decoupling from China and trying to besiege China economically anyway. The Biden administration’s recent ban on selling sophisticated chips to China and Russia is a good example.
In fact, Biden revealed to CBS’s 60 Minutes that during his recent telephone conversations with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. “Biden said: if you think that the Americans and others will continue to invest in the Chinese economy while violating sanctions against Russia, then you are making a huge mistake.”
And guess what? At SCO’s final press conference, Putin said that he and Xi Jinping “stated a significant increase in trade turnover”. An open defiance to Biden’s warning.
This is what we expected. The two countries are both severely isolated. And they DO need each other. The most important tie is energy.
One of the highlights of this SCO summit is the tripartite talks between China, Russia and Mongolia because Russia’s natural gas pipelines to China and other Asian countries are likely to be laid in Mongolia.
Russian state energy giant Gazprom has been researching for years how to lay the massive gas pipeline Siberia 2 to transport natural gas to China over Mongolia. If the pipeline is laid, it will be able to transport 50 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, equivalent to the annual transmission volume of Nord Stream 1 and about one-third of the total natural gas that Russia sends to Europe each year.
Russia has now replaced Saudi Arabia as China’s largest oil importer. If this pipeline goes through, energy sanctions against Russia by Europe and the United States will hardly bring a fatal blow to Russia. At the same time, the threat to cut off oil transport from Saudi Arabia to China through the Strait of Malacca will also lose its deterrent effect. This has great strategic significance for both China and Russia. For this reason alone, China and Russia have to form an alliance.
Does the CIA or FBI have think tanks under them? I have never heard of it. But China does. And because it is under the intelligence agency, it is more important than other think tanks. So In a recent article by Fu Mengzi, vice president of a think tank affiliated to the Chinese Ministry of State Security, Mr. Fu proposed three responses from China’s side in response to the West’s countering of a China-Russia alliance.
The first is to oppose a Unipolar world order, the second is to seek an alternative development mode in a post globalization era, and the third is to solidify relationships with neighboring countries, to reorganize the supply chains within these countries to create an extended internal economic circulation in defense of a Western blockade. Just to be clear: Russia has a four thousand three hundred kilometer border with China, the second longest among all of China’s neighbors.
The article also recognized that the trend of an Eastern rise and a Western descent is slowing down. A stronger West and a Weaker East will not be changed in the near future. Therefore, China should be prepared for a long haul.
Xi Jinping probably looks beyond the Russian-Ukrainian war. He sees Russia as an indispensable piece in his united front against America and the West. Xi Jinping’s Taiwan ambition also needs Russia’s vocal and material support. Yes, China and Russia compete in central Asia for leadership. China’s Belt and Road Initiative intrudes into what Russia considers its strategic backyard. But China and Russia need each other more. It doesn’t seem they have other choices now. They are literally each other’s strongest support. Xi Jinping couldn’t let Putin fall. The deeper Putin is in trouble, the more Xi Jinping has to help him, unfortunately.
One month into the Ukraine war, reigning in Russia using sanctions still proved difficult for the European member countries who were deeply entangled with Putin due to their reliance on Russian gas and oil. How did that reliance come about and is there any chance for them to break free from the need for Russia’s energy?
The current European dependence on Russian oil began decades ago, during the Reagan era and with the promise of a pipeline. That Soviet pipeline traverses the landscape between Siberia and Germany and brings with it much needed gas imports that, according to a March 1981 CIA memo, were needed to offset likely declines in oil supplies for the six European countries in question. They also argued that “related equipment sales by West European firms would create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in business.”
Despite those positives, the CIA warned of some serious risks in creating this type of infrastructure with the Soviet Union. In their memo titled USSR-Western Europe: Implications of the Siberia-to-Europe Gas Pipeline, they find that such a pipeline would “provide the Soviets one additional pressure point they could use as part of a broader diplomatic offensive to persuade the West Europeans to accept their viewpoint on East-West issues,” citing, as an example, an attempt to undermine “European willingness to act in concert with the US on economic sanctions against the Soviets or on security issues.”
They also cite a potential for a “natural gas weapon,” stating that “the likelihood is strong that the Soviets will attempt subtle exploitation of the developing natural gas relationship” and warning that the effects of that pressure would depend on “West European and NATO cohesion and will” and “progress over the next few years by Western Europe in installing ‘insurance’ in the form of strategic reserves and fuel substitution capability.”
A bitter dispute followed. Reagan vehemently opposed the pipeline and issued sanctions preventing American corporations from participating in the construction and operation of that pipeline. But after what The New York Times calls “a public-relations and lobbying blitz that played out across newspaper opinion pages, congressional committees and a direct appeal to the White House,” Reagan backed away from the sanctions, and the pipeline moved forward.
In the decades since, two more pipelines—the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2—have been added, both running under the Baltic Sea and taking gas from the Russian coast to Germany. Together, they could deliver 110 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe every year. But while the Nord Stream has been operational since 2011, the $10 billion Nord Stream 2 project has now been put on hold. The US, UK, Poland and Ukraine strongly oppose the project, fearing that it would provide Russia with an even greater stranglehold on Europe. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called it “a dangerous political weapon.” And German regulators are fearful that because Russian state-owned firm Gazprom owns both a 50% stake in the pipeline and all the gas that goes through it, Russia would have too much control over supply.
That supply is substantial. Even without the Nord Stream 2, Russia currently provides roughly 40% of the European Union’s natural gas imports. Russian supply drying up leaves Europe vulnerable, especially Germany and Italy who consume 42.6 billion cubic meters and 29.2 billion cubic meters respectively. Belarus, Turkey, the Netherlands, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Poland, China and Japan are also at risk if Russia cuts off the supply.
And Russia has a history of tinkering with the supply when they feel politically justified in doing so. The Soviets cut off oil supplies to Yugoslavia in 1948, to Israel in 1956, and to China in the early and mid-1960s. More recently and more notably, Russia cut off gas supplies to the European region in a 2009 diplomatic dispute with Ukraine. According to The New York Times, they left “tens of thousands of homes without heat” and “more than a dozen people froze to death, mainly in Poland, before Russia reopened its pipelines.”
The risks the CIA warned us of in 1981 are just as real today, and we are just as unprepared for them. The EU had proposed a plan to end reliance on Russian oil by 2030 but now, eight years ahead of that date, finds itself scrambling to find alternatives in order to end their participation in the funding of the attack on Ukraine. The US has committed at least 15 billion cubic meters to Europe in the remainder of 2022 along with its commitment to making “sure the families in Europe can get through this winter and the next while we’re building the infrastructure for a diversified, resilient and clean energy future,” as Biden said in a recent statement at the U.S. Chief of Mission Residence in Brussels. But 15 billion cubic meters won’t be enough to meet that goal, and without help from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Venezuela, there seemed no real plan on how to offset European reliance on Russian gas and oil.
Or there is one more route, according to Bloomberg, If there’s any country that might’ve been in a position to rescue Europe from its energy crisis, it’s the U.S. — home to vast shale fields holding a seemingly endless supply of natural gas and giant terminals capable of liquefying it and shuttling it abroad.
But American shale drillers refuse to drill more. Why? We will explain in our next video.
Hello, everyone. Welcome to Zooming In China Tea Time. I’m Simone Gao.
Just days ahead of the Chinese New Year, the start to the year of the Tiger, state-owned CCTV and the CCP Disciplinary Inspection Commission revealed their five-part documentary series on Chinese corruption. “Zero Tolerance” features former Chinese officials from behind bars, revealing the causes of their corruption and their deep regret over their crimes against the country.
Those alleged crimes are substantial, and the punishments are even more so. One episode features Hu Huaibang, a former head at China Development Bank, who was sentenced to life in prison for bribery. Wang Fuyu, who said in his episode that “my crazy greed is at its peak, but I don’t know why I want money,” was sentenced one day after his episode aired. The sentence imposed for allegedly accepting 434 million yuan (about 68 million U.S. dollars) in bribes? He received the death penalty, suspended for two years at which point it will be commuted to life in prison.
The premier was broadcast on Saturday, January 15th, during primetime, showing the importance of this campaign—and its reach to the Chinese citizens it hopes to convert. The first episode, titled “Not Losing 1.4 Billion,” focuses on Sun Lijun and sets the tone for the series, with Sun claiming that he “didn’t expect that I would become a destroyer of the construction of the rule of law or fairness and justice.” Sun Lijun was once the vice public security minister and is said to have received bribes in excess of 14 million US dollars. He is also currently facing charges related to stock manipulation and gun possession.
It is the 1.4 billion citizens of China that Xi, according to this propaganda series, is claiming to protect through his anti-corruption campaign. In the beginning of the first episode, Xi says “If you don’t offend hundreds of corrupt officials, you must offend 1.4 billion people.” Clearly, in order to achieve stability for the regime, the majority of the Chinese people need to be pacified. They need to be persuaded. They need to believe that the CCP, and Xi Jinping in particular, are working for them by removing corrupt officials. The series also aims to “kill the chicken to scare the monkey,” as they say in China. It aims to take power and momentum away from any of Sun’s associates who may intend to oppose Xi through the political or legal systems. It says, in essence, that your boss is down. The trend is over. You have no path forward. Obediently disarm and surrender before the 20th National Congress.
Should we believe that Sun Lijun and the others featured in this series completely disarmed and surrendered? I believe so. Analysts are saying that Sun’s indictment has shrunk recently, showing a much smaller list of crimes than that originally reported by the party. That may be because of his cooperation with the party both on this documentary and, potentially, on turning over names of his associates in order to atone for his own wrongdoing. Censorship within the party focuses on political issues, like overly inflated political ambitions, but the party cannot punish opponents on the basis of political opposition. Instead, they bring charges often relating to bribery and often punished by life imprisonment.
Why might Xi have opted to begin this series with Sun Lijun? Perhaps because of the outsized threat he posed to Xi. Sun was the youngest deputy minister of the Ministry of Public Security. He had clear political potential and advantages. Alongside those advantages came ambition. Sun developed a “15-year plan” for himself, striving to improve in five-year increments.
Sun opted for five years chunks because the party congress of the Communist Party of China is held every five years. At that time, CCP officials from central government all the way down to local governments change ranks, and the promotion of officials is rushed during this period. If you are not promoted, you are likely to face a five year wait for another opportunity or, worse, lose the opportunity because you have aged out of the appointment. In the CCP system, cadres of the Communist Party are appointed by age.
In Sun’s case, he designed steps very likely looked like this: in the first five years, when the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is held in 2022, he would become Minister of the Ministry of Public Security; in the second five years, in 2027, he would become the deputy secretary of the Political and Legal Committee and enter the central politburo; and, in 2032, he would become a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, perhaps even becoming chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. At that point, he would be 64 and would be able to serve one term.
Ambitions such as these would be normal, in a political system where the leader would be replaced after his stated two terms. But that was never Xi Jinping’s intention. And now, because Xi remains in his position and the key positions of the CCP leadership would be stuffed with confidants of Xi Jinping, others who also have their eyes on those positions often find themselves facing corruption charges. Xi will not rotate out his inner circle nor give up power himself. The ambitious have nowhere to go but to quietly fade from politics or be sent to Qincheng Prison on corruption charges. Qingcheng is a prison for jailing only high ranking CCP officials.
The political and legal system is the top priority of Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign to eliminate his challengers. Clearly, he will arrange for his own people to ascend to the top of key departments like the Ministry of Public Security which is under the Political and legal committee. While Sun Lijun was never a Xi Jinping confidant, I believe that he initially did try to please Xi in his role as deputy minister. In one example between October and December of 2015, five staff members from Causeway Books (located in Hong Kong) went missing and were believed to be detained in mainland China. The owner was among those kidnapped, and it has been suggested that the detainments came because of the bookstore’s sale of a book titled Xi Jinping and His Six Women. Sun Lijun would have been in a position to oversee those detainments at the time. Unfortunately for Sun, this move did not win Xi’s trust.
With Sun’s 15-year plan at odds with Xi Jinping’s ambitions, Sun Lijun had no political path forward. That would be difficult for a man like Sun to take. But the corruption charges were more likely tied to Sun’s leadership in the asssasination attempt of Xi Jinping. His role in the Ministry of Public Security provided him with access to local public security departments, especially those in Jiangsu, a site of an alleged assassination attempt on Xi Jinping. Others rumored to have played a part in that attempt were also featured in the “Zero Tolerance” documentary as the small gang of Sun Lijun.
But despite this group being named as the gang of Sun Lijun, a deputy minister of the Ministry of Public Security does not have the reach or resources to carry out a coup d’état alone. If the assassination was successful, there would need to be a new regime set to take over, including not only a replacement for Xi Jinping but the entire top leadership of the CCP. It would take players whose rank go beyond the political and legal systems in China to carry out such a coup. Who might those other players be? Because Sun was a member in the “Shanghai clique,” a group led by former CCP general secretary (and Xi Jinping rival) Jiang Zemin. Notable figures in this clique become suspects. Such as Meng Jianzhu, the former head of the political and legal Committee and Zeng Qinghong, former member of the politburo’s standing committee, Jiang Zemin’s right hand man.
Sun’s assasination attempt did not come out of the blue. It represents an escalation of opposition to Xi Jinping in the CCP leadership. The initial coup d’état attempts are believed to begin in the earliest moments of Xi Jinping’s regime. In 2012, Zhou Yongkang, secretary of the Political and Legal Committee, and Bo Xilai, former governor of Liaoning and an ambitious princeling, crafted a plan to oust Xi and make Bo the top leader of China. The plan was exposed, though, leading to Xi Jinping’s vow to vigorously eliminate their influence over the political and legal systems.
Nearly a decade has passed, and Xi’s commitment to his anti-corruption campaign has not ceased. With more than 100,000 people indicted for corruption and more than 1.3 million lower-level officials punished since 2013, why is Xi unable to end the influence of the opposition within the CCP for such a long time?
It is understandable that Xi would be so forceful and persistent in his attempt to end this opposition given that others were plotting his ouster even before he formally took power. However, if all he had done was to round up those involved in that attempt, this likely would have ended. Those at fault were Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai and a very small number of accomplices. Had he punished only the guilty, others would not have given it a second thought.
Instead, Xi chose to purge the political and legal systems of anyone close to or promoted by Zhou. He assumed guilt by proximity. That assumption led to scores of others being punished where there was no crime or for crimes that were common practice even among Xi and his inner circle.
Why do it then? Probably as a show of power, of prestige. He was just coming to power amid disagreement over whether he should even be the general secretary. His power was unstable, in part because of his few political achievements at the local level. With the attempted coup, the spotlight on his lack of authority and overt qualifications for this new role was even brighter. So, he deemed a show of force necessary to establish his rule over the political system of China.
But there is problem. In the current CCP system, top leaders promote those who are below them and, in many cases, those promotions come through connections or interests. If you want to become the mayor of Hangzhou, you must bribe the secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee. Often, those bribes are in the tens of millions and are accompanied with an inspection to be sure that the leader finds you loyal. Where does that money come from? It comes from bribes paid to you from those below you or from kickbacks gained from major projects. There is no layer of the chain of CCP commands that is clean.
As the top leaders fell in the anti-corruption campaign, lower-level players tended to join forces—not against Xi, but to defend themselves as one body. And as the anti-corruption campaign expanded, Xi pushed those on the sidelines who were simply looking to protect themselves into an alliance against him. Selective anti-corruption felt like a sword hanging over the heads of these officials who knew it could fall at any time because none of them were clean.
And these people have no national law written in their hearts. Sun Lijun gives an example in “Zero Tolerance,” stating that after he became the deputy minister, he always ran red lights. He did so believing that red lights were meant to restrain ordinary people and, as the deputy minister, he should not be bound by them. This is an attitude that is common in the political and legal system, in ways well beyond the running of red lights. These officials believe there is nothing they cannot do, no matter who it is that is setting the restraints around them. The Sun Lijun clan is known to eavesdrop on the top CCP leadership, they record their conversations and even record videos of their private affairs. So, if these people begin to truly feel threatened, they are likely to take the risk and kill Xi Jinping.
Those same reasons may be driving Xi to become more dangerous and less willing to step down. The more he takes this hard-handed approach to this corrupt system, the more enemies he creates. And the more enemies he creates, the more at risk he becomes.
The 2018 revision of China’s constitution, removing the requirement that the president of the country step down after two five-year terms, ended the peaceful path to a transfer of power. This change affected more than just Xi Jinping himself.
A perfect example is Sun Zhengcai. Sun’s life can be summed up by the phrase “the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He was a rising star in Chinese politics, serving as a member of the politburo and mostly seen as Xi Jinping’s successor as the general secretary of the Party when Xi’s tenure was up. But when Xi decided not to step down, Sun’s existence became intolerable to Xi. Therefore, Sun was charged and convicted of bribery and received a common sentence among Xi’s opposition: life imprisonment.
At a larger scale, the consequence of Xi using only people he knows and trusts from Zhijiang and Fujian provinces where he worked before is that the careers of most officials in the CCP will be negatively affected. Trusting only your own people does not even leave open the opportunity for others to defect to your faction. As a result, rising numbers within the CCP are becoming increasingly alienated, even antagonistic.
That antagonism is likely to hit a breaking point at the upcoming party congress. As I mentioned earlier, every five years brings an intense struggle at the party congress when entire cadres are promoted. Should you miss the promotion at the right age, you are aged out of advancement in the political system and left with nowhere to go. Xi is not about to upset a handful of CCP leadership hopefuls. He is about to alienate thousands and create an even longer list of political enemies. Those who advanced together as cadres and have now been shoved aside as cadres are likely to unite against the Xi Jinping regime.
So long as Xi continues with these tactics, he will continue to create ever-larger numbers of enemies. Doing so will ensure an endless battle against the opposition, one he claims as a war against corruption. Besides this, Xi’s vision of taking the country to a more closed future is at odds with the more reform-minded party majority. Getting rid of Xi Jinping becomes a common interest of all.
That’s all for today.Thanks for watching Zooming In China. Please like, share, subscribe and donate to this program if you like my content. Also, head over to my membership site at zoomingin.tv. You can get video/audio formats of my shows, full transcripts, and in-depth reports available only to members. Just $5 a month, or $50 a year and you can cancel anytime. Please check it out.