Holding Pattern: Zhou Yongkang in the Public Sphere

By | May 22, 2012 | No Comments

Holding Pattern: Zhou Yongkang in the Public Sphere

by Megha Rajagopalan

This past week, China’s security czar Zhou Yongkang (周永康) returned to the spotlight amid reports he had already handed over much of his responsibility to a successor, seeking to evade further fall-out from the Bo Xilai scandal and activist Chen Guangcheng’s escape from house arrest. 71-year-old Zhou, who was once a party chief in Sichuan province under Jiang Zemin and is now the ninth-ranking official in the Standing Committee, is set to step down later this year anyway as part of a broader leadership transition. Regardless of the apparent relative safety of his political position, reports have circulated that Party officials have called for his early ouster, including a barbed public letter from retired CCP members in Yunnan province.

Direct evidence of Zhou’s involvement in the Chongqing scandal has been far more implied than proven, but there’s no doubt that the security czar had been an ardent backer of Bo Xilai’s iron-fisted approach to public security and concurrent Maoist revival campaign. Their close relationship fueled speculation that Zhou would become the next major casualty of the Bo scandal.

Zhou Yongkang’s Chronology |  In the ten weeks that have passed since the Wang Lijun incident, Chinese politics have been particularly turbulent, and Zhou has been very close to the storm center. While speculation over has activities and position has run the gamut, it may be useful to recap Zhou’s whereabouts over the past couple of months.

March 8 – Zhou attends the Chongqing delegation session at the annual National People’s Congress, piling praise on the city’s achievements.

March 14 – Wen Jiabao publicly criticizes the leftist resurgence and warns the country that without urgent political reform, China could see another Cultural Revolution. His remarks are widely interpreted as a rebuke of Zhou.

March 15 – Bo is officially sacked as Chongqing party secretary, and rumors begin to circulate that his backer Zhou is next on the chopping block

March 15-22 –  Zhou disappears from the public eye, fueling speculation he’d become a casualty of the Bo scandal. Another wild rumor suggests Zhou is putting together a coup d’etat behind the scenes.

March 23 –  Those rumors are dispelled when a photograph shows Zhou meeting with the Indonesian foreign minister.

March 26 – Xinhua carries a news item saying Zhou called for “greater efforts to improve political and legislative work so as to consolidate the Party’s ruling status, maintain the country’s stability and safeguard people’s livelihoods.”

April 3 –  Zhou appears before hundreds of security officials at a training camp in Beijing, noting that “stressing politics is always the overriding priority”, according to a report by People’s Daily.  Zhou emphasizes that officials must maintain a “high degree of consistency” with the central party leadership at all times.

April 12 –  Zhou meets with Shanghai Cooperation Council, which includes security chiefs from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to discuss regional security issues.

April 18 –  Zhou meets with Victor Gaute Lopez, a visiting Communist Party official from Cuba.

April 18-20 –  Zhou heads to Hubei, visiting an industrial park in Ezhou city and nearby village Tongshan to talk about industrial development.

April 22 –  Chen Guangcheng escapes house arrest and flees to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

April 24 –  Zhou makes a speech at a meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization chief justices.

April 26 –  Zhou meets with Abulkadir Aksu, first deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling party.

May 8 –  Zhou meets with his Singaporean counterpart, Teo Chee Hean, in Beijing.

May 9 – Zhou makes a highly publicized speech at China University of Political Science and Law.

May 13 – The Financial Times reports that Zhou has given up “day-to-day control of the country’s police, courts and spy networks,” to minister of public security Meng Jianzhu, citing senior party officials and diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity. The FT also quoted sources who claimed Zhou had to “confess” to trying to protect Bo before his Standing Committee colleagues.

May 13 – In an unusual move, People’s Daily runs a full page on 政改, or political reform, an idea championed by Wen Jiabao and his camp.

May 13-16 – Zhou appears on CCTV speaking on social-economic development in Xinjiang.

May 17 – A group of 15 elderly Party members in Yunnan province send an open letter to the central Committee calling for Zhou to be removed from the Politburo Standing Committee because of his support for Bo and the Chongqing model, saying “they are liars, they are of the same ilk.”

May 18 – Zhou speaks at a national awards ceremony for police officers along with Wen Jiabao and Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.  His remarks are followed by a speech by Meng Jianzhu.

Conclusion |  Although the Chongqing model has clearly fallen out of favor, it’s not immediately evident what other elements of Zhou’s legacy will be preserved or discarded— including his actions on the border with North Korea. Zhou’s early ouster could also indicate that he may not have the ability to choose his successor, as the Financial Times reported. His replacement as public security minister, Meng Jianzhu, does not have the same political clout that Zhou once enjoyed. Zhou’s movements in the weeks ahead— as well as appearances of the Wen-championed idea of political reform in the Party press— may be indications of what’s to come.

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