Fri, Apr 06, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Chongqing events reveal discord

By Hsu Szu-chien 徐斯儉

China has a party-state authoritarian form of government. The power transition that happens every 10 years is the time at which this whole system is at its most unstable, but it is also the moment that gives us the clearest glimpse of the nature of China’s core political leadership.

As the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) approaches, there has been a string of incidents, starting with then-Chongqing vice mayor and police chief Wang Lijun’s (王立軍) attempt to seek refuge in the US consulate in Chengdu, followed by Bo Xilai’s (薄熙來) removal from his posts of Chongqing mayor and Communist Party secretary. Over the past few days, there have also been widespread rumors about the possible fall from power of CCP Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC) Secretary and Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang (周永康).

These events have revealed power struggles and factionalism in the top ranks of the CCP that are normally hidden from view. It turns out that not only does the long-rumored discord within the CCP’s most powerful leading body — the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee — exist, but the conflicts among its members’ opinions may be much sharper than people generally imagine. While some China researchers praise what they see as the orderly process by which power is handed over among the CCP elite, this orderly image is becoming questioned now that the party’s 18th National Congress is drawing near.

Wang’s attempt to seek refuge in the US consulate, his subsequent arrest, Bo’s fall from grace and the rumors about Zhou show that, while the CCP appears to have a firm grip on power, its power center is fragile and divided.

But what does this all have to do with relations across the Taiwan Strait? The key point is these incidents also reveal how frighteningly unbridled China’s government and judicial structures are in their abuse of power.

Zhou is the secretary of the PLAC, which directs the police, procuratorate (prosecutors), courts, state security agencies and armed police. All these agencies have the power to restrict individual freedoms and, given the lack of restraints on their actions, to do things that infringe on human rights.

The reason why the political struggle now going on in Beijing has given rise to rumors about military coups and the like is that Zhou has the power to deploy the armed police. This may also explain why People’s Liberation Army generals have been making public declarations of their loyalty to the CCP central leadership, as well as rumored deployments of tank and artillery units.

When there is a political struggle going on, these armed forces can strengthen the hand of those contending for power, while at other times they are often behind abuses of human rights. Their victims may be Chinese victims of land grabs or human rights defenders, or Taiwanese businesspeople, students or reporters stationed in China.

A good example is National People’s Congress (NPC) delegate Zhang Mingyu’s (張明渝) recent expose on Bo to the media during the concurrent sessions of the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Just as the NPC session was under way, Zhang was “made to disappear.” If an NPC delegate can be mysteriously detained with no explanation, even while the congress was in session, how much more likely is such a thing to happen to ordinary people or to Taiwanese living in China?

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