China Accuses Former Security Chief, Jailed Chongqing Boss of Unofficial Political Activity

china-zhou-yongkang-mar-2012-600.jpg Zhou Yongkang at the National People's Congress opening session in Beijing, March 5, 2012.

China's Supreme People's Court has accused former security czar Zhou Yongkang of involvement in unofficial political activities with jailed former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, in an apparent reference to unconfirmed rumors that they tried to stage a coup in March 2012.

In its 2014 annual report, the country's highest court said Zhou and Bo had caused "severe harm" with their activities.

The pair had "trampled the law, damaged unity within [China's ruling] Communist Party and conducted non-organizational political activities," the official Xinhua news agency quoted the report as saying.

Zhou was formally arrested and expelled from the party last year, but official accusations against him had until now been limited to taking bribes and leaking state secrets.

The report is the first allusion made by the administration of President Xi Jinping to any political activities carried out by the two men.

Liu Dawen, former editor of the Hong Kong-based political magazine Outpost, said the use of the term "non-organizational political activities" showed the case is officially being handled as a political trial, and follows warnings from Xi that he would take steps to end factional strife within the party.

"This is now a political matter; it's no longer just a matter of money, of fighting corruption," Liu said.

"The unofficial activities probably relate to setting up a second power base; a second central government, which posed a threat to the existing hierarchy," he said.

"That's why this has escalated to a political matter."

Vested interests

Zhou served as public security minister from 2002, before being promoted to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee between 2007 and 2012, in charge of domestic security, including the state security police.

Zhou's security regime and combined business interests had given him huge power before he stepped down from the Politburo standing committee in November 2012, analysts have said. Zhou's post has since been downgraded to report to the committee.

Liu said the report recalls the language used around the trial of the Gang of Four, the faction within the ruling party that was headed by Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing, Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan and Zhang Chunqiao until their arrests on Oct. 6, 1976.

"It's just like the end of the Cultural Revolution," he said, referring to the decade of political violence and social upheaval let loose by Mao in 1966. "The Gang of Four was [also] about trying to overturn the party."

Liu said Xi had already prepared the ground for the new  allegations against Zhou and Bo in a recent speech.

"A few months ago, Xi Jinping made a speech saying that he will go after factional networks of vested interests and anyone carrying out unofficial organizations and illegal activities," Liu said.

"We have seen this approach of going after factional interests and organizations emerge gradually in the wake of the anti-corruption campaign," he said.

Liu said the problem of dense networks of corrupt and vested interests is a genuine one among China's political and financial elite.

"But dealing with it will be very difficult, and pretty soon we're not just talking about factions, but about splitting the party," he said.

Alleged coup

Former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai was jailed for life for corruption and abuse of power in September 2013, a month after his wife Gu Kailai was handed a suspended death sentence for the murder of a British businessman in the biggest political scandal to rock the party in decades.

Bo's ouster from office on March 15, 2012 came soon after an embarrassing Feb. 6 visit to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu by his former police chief and right-hand man Wang Lijun.

Bo's sudden departure also sparked online rumors of an alleged coup plot between him and Zhou, prompting the country's Internet censors to shut down comments on many social media sites.

Hong Kong veteran journalist and political commentator Ching Cheong said Wednesday's Xinhua report appears to give credibility to the coup rumors.

"There have been widespread rumors of a conspiracy between [Zhou and Bo], although whether it's as serious as a coup attempt remains to be seen," Ching said.

"But that is what the Supreme People's Court is referring to, with these words 'non-organizational political activities'," he said.

He said it was nearly unthinkable that China's leadership would ever admit that a coup attempt had taken place, however.

"This would look very bad, so they use [this phrase] to indicate it instead," he said.

The report comes after China's highest-ranking judicial official said last week that Zhou, who is already at the center of a huge graft probe into his connections in the domestic security regime, state-run petroleum companies and the Sichuan provincial government, would be tried openly in court.

However, such a politically sensitive case is unlikely to produce much more than a carefully managed show trial, analysts and lawyers have said.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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