The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s oldest continuously published newspaper currently owned by Australian Media Company Nine Entertainment, is reporting that Chinese internal politics are more unstable than previously known, especially as the Communist Party of China (CPC) and two-term president Xi Jinping enter what is called “selection season” – the months in the lead up to the Party Congress in 2022. Xi will be vying for a third presidential term after, like President Vladimir Putin in Russia, removing term limits for the presidency.
Vetting sources is critical when considering publicly available information (PAI) to assess the “palace intrigue” of the CPC. The Herald article – “Purges, a plot and the real reason why Xi Jinping might be afraid to leave China” – bases its reporting on the following interesting and reliable sources, which we encourage our readership to vet further:
- Richard McGregor – Senior Fellow for East Asia at the Lowy Institute
- CNN reportage on the downfall of China’s former Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua – He helped bring down one of China’s most corrupt officials. So why is the country cheering his downfall?, as well as reporting by Japan’s Nikkei Asia Analysis: The man who knew too much of Xi’s power plays is out.
- Willy Wo-Lap Lam is considered an expert on Chinese politics. His perspective is found at Xi Facing Opposition on Different Fronts in Run-Up to Key Party Plenum
- On more of the fate of Chinese billionaire Lai Xiaomin (who was executed in January of this year) that the Herald article alleges funded posthumously a plot again Xi Jinping led by Fu Zhenghua, see the Reuters coverage: Former China Huarong chairman executed after bribery conviction
- The CPC Central Committee Bimonthly, QIUSHI
- NetEase and Sohu.com – For what it is worth, Herald Reporter Peter Hartcher felt the need to discuss the credibility of these two sources in the article.
Based on these sources, the Herald reports that Xi and his loyalists have experienced a plot against their power; have deployed subsequent purges of power based on these challenges; and question the loyalty of their top military brass in China. Details of these events include:
- The Man Who Knew Too Much: In the last week, Xi has made moves against two internal security officials responsible for China’s internal security: Fu Zhenghua, who served as vice-minister and also as China’s Justice Minister. According to the Herald, Fu was in charge of China’s “police, secret police, prosecution and court system, putting him at the pinnacle of the country’s political-legal apparatus.” Japan’s Nikkei newspaper describes Fu as “the man who knew too much of Xi’s power plays”. China watcher Willy Lam notes that “Fu lost favour because he was seen to be involved in building cliques and factions within the police apparatus. What Xi and all-party leaders are paranoid about is senior cadres building cliques and factions because they could be up to all sorts of conspiracy and so forth.”
- Xi’s 650 consecutive days without leaving China?: Willy Lam also provided an analysis to the Herald of Xi’s mindset during these political challenges: “Emperor-like figures, whether in China or other countries, because they are seen as demigods, they would be seen as paranoid” when they seek out enemies, says Lam, “and, in the case of Xi, paranoid about the security establishment. The fact that Xi is still implementing purges against his enemies indicates he’s quite paranoid and the fact that he’s not been out of the country for 650 days suggests he may be insecure about leaving the capital.”
- The Xi Purge: According to the Herald, in 2020 “Xi launched a ‘rectification campaign’ against the police and public security establishment…to ensure its loyalty in the approach to next year’s crucial Party Congress.” Lam points out in his recent essay, Xi Facing Opposition on Different Fronts in Run-Up to Key Party Plenum, that this year alone this “purge” punished 178,431 security personnel, including 1,258 heads of departments.”
- A Conspiracy Against Xi?: NetEase and SoHu.com are mentioned by the Herald as the sources of “perhaps the most dramatic revelation in recent weeks….the publication of two articles last month outlining a foiled police plot against Xi. The exact nature of the plot isn’t clear – the reports didn’t mention whether they planned to swoop and arrest the President or to do something more grievous. A ‘conspiratorial clique’ allegedly was involved in ‘planning something illegal and improper’ against the President during an expected visit to the city of Nanjing, in Jiangsu province.”
- Additional PAI vetting encouraged: The fact that the Herald contextualized the sources of this foiled plot in detail in their reportage calls attention to the credibility of the sources – relative to the other sources quoted by the Herald – and may call for additional confirmation. Willy Wo-Lap Lam is also quoted liberally throughout the Herald article, so further vetting of his background is encouraged as well.
- Xi control over PLA ‘less than ironclad’: There are also signs that Xi is having problems within his ultimate lever of power: the military. The Herald concludes their coverage by once again quoting Lam, on the recent development of a top officer of China’s Western Theatre Command (responsible for areas of Xinjiang and Tibet as well as India and Afghanistan) being charged four times in less than a year: “Lam describes this as a sign that Xi’s control of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is ‘less than ironclad…there is speculation that these extraordinary personnel changes may have involved issues of loyalty to the Central Military Commission chairman’, who is Xi himself, according to Lam, ‘Xi still appears to harbour doubts about the loyalty of the military leadership.’”
For more on China’s technology strategy, see China’s Formal Bid for Global Dominance of the Semiconductor Supply Chain
For more on the Great Power competition with China, see OODA Loop – What the C-Suite needs to know about a Return to “Great Power Competition” and DoD Capabilities
For more on the PLA Military-Civil Fusion, see OODA Loop – The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Global Supply Chains and Chinese Military-Civil Fusion (MCF)
For a strategic conversation on China and other related geopolitical threats and risks, see OODA Loop – Richer and Becker on Domestic Terrorism, Cyber, China, Iran, Russia, and Decision-Making
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