Sun Zhengcai, the Party Secretary of Chongqing and a member of China’s Politburo once seen as a possible successor to President Xi Jinping, has been abruptly dismissed from his post over the weekend and placed under investigation, Ting Shi and Keith Zhai at Bloomberg report:
Sun, 53, was the youngest member of the party’s Politburo and was considered a rising star ahead of a key leadership reshuffle later this year. State media reported Saturday that he was replaced by a provincial party chief — Chen Miner — who is an associate of President Xi Jinping.
The four officials attended a municipal meeting on Sunday in Chongqing where they were told by a senior local figure that Sun severely damaged the party’s interests and failed the trust of the party. The officials asked not to be identified because the discussions were private. Zhou Bo, deputy director of Chongqing’s propaganda department, didn’t answer three calls to his mobile seeking comment.
The officials said they were urged to eliminate the influence of Sun, including his policies and instructions. The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that Sun was being probed, without providing details.
Sun was taken away by authorities on Friday night while he was in Beijing for a twice-a-decade National Financial Work Conference, the officials said. Chongqing is a fast-growing mega-city and one of four centrally administered municipalities alongside Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin. [Source]
Sun’s removal is the first probe of a sitting Politburo member since the 2012 downfall of his predecessor Bo Xilai, who was sentenced to life in prison for corruption and abuse of power. In February, the party’s top anti-corruption agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, criticized Chongqing authorities for falling short of eradicating Bo Xilai’s “lingering pernicious influence.” As another warning sign of his downfall, Sun was absent from a handover meeting on Saturday where incoming and outgoing leaders are expected to be present simultaneously for the formal replacement announcement. Choi Chi-yuk and Eva Li at South China Morning Post reported:
Sun and Chen are among the youngest provincial party chiefs and both had been seen as rising stars.
But in a glaring departure from party protocol, Sun was absent from an event to announce Chen’s appointment. State media also gave no indication of what Sun’s next job might be.
[…] Chen Daoyin, a political scientist with the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said Sun could be in trouble because his work was not mentioned at all in relation to the Chongqing handover meeting.
“In general, handover meetings summarise the predecessor’s work and the successor expresses his gratitude to the predecessor,” Chen Daoyin said.
“It is basic etiquette in Chinese officialdom.”
Sun also did not appear in state television’s prime-time news reports on the two-day National Financial Work Conference in Beijing, whicht ended on Saturday. The meeting was attended by all Politburo members except for Sun and two others who were on overseas trips. [Source]
The replacement of Sun by his longtime associate Chen Miner, the former governor of Guizhou, is seen as a broader attempt by President Xi Jinping to sideline rivals and promote allies ahead of a key leadership reshuffle at the 19th Party Congress in autumn of this year. Twenty-five members of the Politburo are expected to be replaced and five of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee are also scheduled to retire. Reuters’ Adam Jourdan and Philip Wen look at Chen’s close ties with Xi:
Chen previously worked under Xi in Zhejiang province, where Xi was then provincial party leader, and has since ridden the coat-tails of his former boss, climbing rapidly through the party ranks. Foreign diplomats who have met Chen say he talks openly about his closeness to Xi.
[…] Chen was made Guizhou deputy party secretary in 2012, but was promoted to governor less than a year later and within roughly a month of Xi becoming president, before moving up again to his role as Guizhou party boss in 2015.
Sources with ties to the leadership had said Chen could jump straight into the Standing Committee with Xi’s support potentially easing out contenders from rival factions, though Chen is still considered a dark horse candidate.
The switch from Guizhou to the more high-profile Chongqing role signals that Chen is virtually assured of a Politburo spot. But the change so close to the 19th Party Congress may mean he has to wait longer for further promotion, as it would be unusual to move the holder of such an important post within months.[Source]
In addition to securing allies within the politburo, the removal of Sun and broader consolidation of power may also signal an attempt by Xi to alter the rules of succession and extend his second five-year term as president. Bloomberg’s Keith Zhai and Ting Shi report in a separate article:
“Chongqing has uncannily returned to the center of the political drama five years later, although Sun’s clout cannot beat Bo’s back then,” said Zhang Jian, an associate political science professor at Peking University. Sun’s removal suggests maneuvering before the leadership changes and points to the president being “in full control of the political situation,” Zhang said.
[…] “The 18th Party Congress approved Sun Zhengcai and Hu Chunhua for the Politburo, and both were viewed as possible successors to Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang,” said Joseph Fewsmith, a professor at Boston University who studies China’s elite politics. “So now, part of the decision of the 18th Party Congress has been overturned. We’ll see if the other part is,” he said.
The removal of Sun could open the way for Chen to take a seat on the 25-member Politburo. Chen was Xi’s propaganda chief during his tenure in the southeastern Zhejiang province between 2002 and 2007. Chongqing’s party chiefs have been represented on the Politburo since 2007.
[…] “All signs are pointing to the direction that Xi is planning for a third term” after his 10 years are up in 2022, said Zhao. “Succession is being planned according to Xi’s plan, not some arrangements made five years ago by his predecessor. That has already become ancient history.” [Source]
Hu’s leadership prospects were reported to be fading in 2015, but may have been restored by his conspicuous professions of loyalty to Xi and demonstration of a hard line toward unrest in the village of Wukan.
Meanwhile, The New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow highlights the continued underrepresentation of women among China’s top political leaders:
Not once since the Communists came to power in 1949 has a woman sat on the party’s highest body, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee now led by President Xi Jinping. The 25-member Politburo has just two women, though that is the highest number since the Cultural Revolution, when the wives of the Chinese leader Mao Zedong and of Lin Biao, his designated successor, were given seats in 1969.
Despite China’s constitutional commitments to gender equality, discrimination remains widespread, academics and feminists say, summed up by the saying that a woman with power is like “a hen crowing at dawn” — an augur of the collapse of the family and state.
[…] “It would take a miracle for a woman to become head of the People’s Republic of China in the foreseeable future,” Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution, wrote in a recent essay.
In fact, the percentage of women among full members of the party’s Central Committee has declined in recent years, from 6.4 percent in 2012 before the last party congress to 4.9 percent today. [Source]