Top Police Officials Purged in Legal-Political Rectification Campaign

The investigation of two senior officials once tasked with domestic security signifies that the 2021 legal-political rectification campaign has reached the upper levels of the Party. Fu Zhenghua, the former deputy head of the Ministry of Public Security who led the corruption investigation into Zhou Yongkang, is under investigation for “serious violations of discipline and national laws.” Sun Lijun, a former vice-minister at the Ministry of Public Security, has been expelled from the Party amidst a host of charges including corruption, immorality, negligence, superstition and—most damningly—disloyalty to the party. Although the reasons behind their sudden falls from grace remain opaque, many observers believe they are related to preparations for the 20th Party Congress to be held in 2022, where Xi is widely expected to pursue a third consecutive term in office, breaking Reform-era precedents. At CNN, Nectar Gan and Jessie Yeung reported on the widely reviled Fu Zhenghua:

But Fu was not just taking on corrupt political elites. As the deputy minister of public security, in 2013 he unleashed a sweeping crackdown on opinion leaders on Chinese social media site Weibo, detaining several high-profile commentators with large followings. He was also in charge of the nationwide roundup of human rights lawyers and activists in 2015, in what has become infamously known as the “709 crackdown,” according to people close to the detained lawyers.

[…] “The targets of Fu Zhenghua’s crackdown are people at the core of China’s civil society. Therefore, the country’s whole intellectual sector and the wider public are all thrilled by (his fall from grace),” said Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing.

[…] Fu’s heavy-handed approach was also applied to police officers and prison guards, some of whom applauded their former boss’ downfall as “most gratifying.” Commenting on social media, many accused Fu of imposing grueling and unreasonably harsh requirements on grassroots officers, such as not allowing prison guards to take breaks during night shifts. [Source]

The list of high-profile crackdowns and investigations Fu directed during his time in power is lengthy: the Zhou Youngkang investigation, the investigation into “malicious trading” that brought down the Chinese stock market in 2015, a crackdown on Falun Gong, a crackdown on “Big V” internet commentators, and the 709 crackdown, which targeted lawyers and prominent members of civil society.

His arrest is likely part of a political-legal rectification campaign, first announced in 2020, that commenced in 2021. The campaign was explicitly modeled on the Yan’an rectification campaign of 1942 to 1945, during which over 1,000 Party members were killed in the service of realizing Mao’s tripartite goals: “achieving sole power within the Party, unifying the Party and army to overthrow Kuomintang rule after Japan’s defeat, and making himself China’s absolute ruler”—all of which he achieved. Nearly 180,000 cadres in the legal-political sphere have been disciplined in Xi’s 2021 redux; 1,985 have been charged with crimes. Alfred Wu of the National University of Singapore described the campaign as an effort to shore up support before the 20th Party Congress. “Xi Jinping believes the political-legal system is the most important because it is a disciplinary force [… Moves like this suggest] he is not very confident despite outsiders saying he will a hundred per cent get a third term,” he told The South China Morning Post.

Sun Lijun was first publicly placed under investigation in 2020, although Nikkei Asia reports he was secretly under investigation as early as 2019. In late September, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection announced his expulsion from the Party in an emotive statement. At The Wall Street Journal, James T. Areddy wrote about the significance of Sun’s removal from the Party:

The notice from the party’s antigraft Central Commission for Discipline Inspection accused Mr. Sun of rumor mongering, deception, theft, extravagance and immorality, as well as disloyalty to the party, superstition and negligence in stopping the spread of Covid-19. “The circumstances were particularly serious, the nature was particularly bad, and the impact was extremely bad,” said the statement.

[…] Now in his early 50s, Mr. Sun is among ousted officials who were once considered political loyalists of Mr. Xi. His removal “indicated the unfolding of a new wave of purges targeting those who had once helped Xi consolidate power,” according to research last year by University of Victoria political science professor Guoguang Wu published in China Leadership Monitor.

[…] Mr. Wu said Thursday that a reference in the allegations to Mr. Sun’s participation in “cliques” likely indicates his problems also relate to behavior by other officials. [Source]

At The Diplomat, Jesse Turland reported that Sun Lijun’s troubles may stem from his work as a member of a team dispatched to Wuhan from Beijing to deal with COVID:

Online, observers have theorized that Sun’s “arbitrary discussion” of government policy may have been at the core of the CCDI’s vitriolic rebuke. Sun was rumored to have failed to keep a lid on sensitive information about the handling of the novel coronavirus.

In the early months of 2020, Sun went to Wuhan to contribute to stability maintenance in the city. According to an unsourced rumor, Sun wrote notes regarding the party’s handling of the situation in Wuhan to his Sydney-based wife, which were intercepted by Australian intelligence agencies.

Sun’s arrest in April last year coincided with the arrest of Zhang Feng, an executive of Tencent, the company that owns WeChat, for failure to protect data security. This, according to Toronto-based independent journalist Wen Zhao, lends credence to the possibility that Sun and Zhang were targeted together for leaking information, intentionally or otherwise, about the management of COVID-19. [Source]

There is another intriguing angle to the Fu Zhenghua and Sun Lijun story. Eccentric billionaire Guo Wengui leveled unsubstantiated charges of corruption at both men in 2017, accusing them of having “no faith in the system or the country” and hiding highly classified Chinese government materials overseas. Guo also leveled accusations against both men’s superiors, Meng Jiangzhu and Wang Qishan, both of whom remain—as far as outside observers can tell—in good standing within the Party.

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