Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on telegram
Share on whatsapp
Share on linkedin
Share on print
Share on email

Political Risk Watch: Beijing Training Session for Provincial-level Officials Hints at Turbulent Political Undercurrent

◎ The disquieting official coverage of Zhang Yang’s suicide and Dec. 6 education course for provincial-level officials hint at instability and unease in the CCP’s top civilian and military leadership.

Provincial-level Chinese officials have to attend seven rounds of “education courses” from December to April, according to a Central Committee decision on Dec. 6. The first course, which was held that day, was chaired by Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Huning and attended by four Politburo members and other provincial-level officials.

The backdrop: Between 2012 and 2013—a particularly turbulent and sensitive period for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—provincial-level officials were summoned to Beijing for seven rounds of education courses. One such session was held after former security czar Zhou Yongkang was arrested on Dec. 2, 2013. From Dec. 2 to Dec. 6, 201 provincial-level officials were summoned to Beijing to attend the second session of an education course on studying the “spirit of Xi Jinping’s speeches.” The officials were supervised so strictly that the only periods of time they had for interactions was during meals and on their journey back to their accommodations.

This year, over 300 officials at the provincial, sub-national and national levels were summoned to Beijing for an emergency seminar on July 26 and July 27. Two days before the seminar, the central authorities announced an investigation into former Politburo member and Chongqing Party secretary Sun Zhengcai. Unlike previous seminars, this one was held at Beijing’s Jingxi Hotel, an establishment run by the military. State television footage showed the officials seated in front of empty desks; the absence of writing material suggested that the details of the meeting were not to be recorded.

Officials from the Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC) have also been summoned to attend emergency education courses. On March 21, 2012, the Central PLAC ordered the 3,000-plus provincial, city, and county PLAC secretaries to Beijing for an urgent education session. The first class appeared to have been hastily arranged, and its students had to adhere to very stringent regulations for matters like applying for leave of absence or receiving guests at their accommodations. Earlier that month, Bo Xilai was put under house arrest, and a military incident broke out in Beijing on March 19.

Why it matters: The political environment in China is once again tense and turbulent in the wake of former Central Military Commission (CMC) Political Work Department chief Zhang Yang’s suicide at the end of November. Also, there is still no official word on what became of Fang Fenghui, Zhang’s colleague and former CMC Chief of Joint Staff. Fang and Zhang were both removed from office on Aug. 26.

Our take:

1. Based on our observation, only 14 provincial Party committees and three departments under the State Council openly condemned Zhang Yang in the three days after his suicide was officially announced on Nov. 28. The various CMC departments and five military theater commands stayed silent on the issue.

The People’s Liberation Army Daily announced Zhang Yang’s suicide on Nov. 28, and followed up with a 300-character commentary where he was condemned for taking his life to escape punishment. The commentary also emphasized the need to be committed to stamping out corruption. In contrast, state media fiercely criticized disgraced CMC vice chairs Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou after they were arrested.

The state media’s curious silence on Zhang also starkly contrasts with the scandalous exposés carried by overseas Chinese language press.

2. The disquieting official coverage of Zhang Yang’s suicide and Dec. 6 education course for provincial-level officials hint at instability and unease in the CCP’s top civilian and military leadership. Chinese officials at large could also be more deeply troubled by the suicide of Zhang, an active senior military leader at the time of his arrest, as compared to the purged of retired CCP elites Zhou Yongkang, Xu Caihou, and Guo Boxiong.

The lack of response from the military on the Zhang Yang case partly verifies our analysis of why Xi Jinping decided to unveil a downsized CMC. If Xi is unsettled by the findings of the investigation into Fang Fenghui and Zhang Yang, then having a smaller CMC that he can more easily control is preferable to having an expanded CMC with senior generals whose loyalties he still needs time to assess.

3. Given the current turbulent political undercurrent in China, all sorts of crisis could break out at a moment’s notice.

Search past entries by date
“The breadth of SinoInsider’s insights—from economics through the military to governance, all underpinned by unparalleled reporting on the people in charge—is stunning. In my over fifty years of in-depth reading on the PRC, unclassified and classified, SinoInsider is in a class all by itself.”
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Unique insights are available frequently from the reports of Sinoinsider.”
Michael Pillsbury, Senior Fellow for China Strategy, The Heritage Foundation
“Thank you for your information and analysis. Very useful.”
Prof. Ravni Thakur, University of Delhi, India
“SinoInsider’s research has helped me with investing in or getting out of Chinese companies.”
Charles Nelson, Managing Director, Murdock Capital Partners
“I value SinoInsider because of its always brilliant articles touching on, to name just a few, CCP history, current trends, and factional politics. Its concise and incisive analysis — absent the cliches that dominate China policy discussions in DC and U.S. corporate boardrooms — also represents a major contribution to the history of our era by clearly defining the threat the CCP poses to American peace and prosperity and global stability. I am grateful to SinoInsider — long may it thrive!”
Lee Smith, Author and journalist
“Your publication insights tremendously help us complete our regular analysis on in-depth issues of major importance. ”
Ms. Nicoleta Buracinschi, Embassy of Romania to the People’s Republic of China
"I’m a very happy, satisfied subscriber to your service and all the deep information it provides to increase our understanding. SinoInsider is profoundly helping to alter the public landscape when it comes to the PRC."
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Prof. Ming’s information about the Sino-U.S. trade war is invaluable for us in Taiwan’s technology industry. Our company basically acted on Prof. Ming’s predictions and enlarged our scale and enriched our product lines. That allowed us to deal capably with larger orders from China in 2019. ”
Mr. Chiu, Realtek R&D Center
“I am following China’s growing involvement in the Middle East, seeking to gain a better understanding of China itself and the impact of domestic constraints on its foreign policy. I have found SinoInsider quite helpful in expanding my knowledge and enriching my understanding of the issues at stake.”
Ehud Yaari, Lafer International Fellow, The Washington Institute
“SinoInsider’s research on the CCP examines every detail in great depth and is a very valuable reference. Foreign researchers will find SinoInsider’s research helpful in understanding what is really going on with the CCP and China. ”
Baterdene, Researcher, The National Institute for Security Studies (Mongolian)
“The forecasts of Prof. Chu-cheng Ming and the SinoInsider team are an invaluable resource in guiding our news reporting direction and anticipating the next moves of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.”
Chan Miu-ling, Radio Television Hong Kong China Team Deputy Leader
“SinoInsider always publishes interesting and provocative work on Chinese elite politics. It is very worthwhile to follow the work of SinoInsider to get their take on factional struggles in particular.”
Lee Jones, Reader in International Politics, Queen Mary University of London
“[SinoInsider has] been very useful in my class on American foreign policy because it contradicts the widely accepted argument that the U.S. should work cooperatively with China. And the whole point of the course is to expose students to conflicting approaches to contemporary major problems.”
Roy Licklider, Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Columbia University
“As a China-based journalist, SinoInsider is to me a very reliable source of information to understand deeply how the CCP works and learn more about the factional struggle and challenges that Xi Jinping may face. ”
Sebastien Ricci, AFP correspondent for China & Mongolia
“SinoInsider offers an interesting perspective on the Sino-U.S. trade war and North Korea. Their predictions are often accurate, which is definitely very helpful.”
Sebastien Ricci, AFP correspondent for China & Mongolia
“I have found SinoInsider to provide much greater depth and breadth of coverage with regard to developments in China. The subtlety of the descriptions of China's policy/political processes is absent from traditional media channels.”
John Lipsky, Peter G. Peterson Distinguished Scholar, Kissinger Center for Global Affairs
“My teaching at Cambridge and policy analysis for the UK audience have been informed by insights from your analyzes. ”
Dr Kun-Chin Lin, University Lecturer in Politics,
Deputy Director of the Centre for Geopolitics, Cambridge University
" SinoInsider's in-depth and nuanced analysis of Party dynamics is an excellent template to train future Sinologists with a clear understanding that what happens in the Party matters."
Stephen Nagy, Senior Associate Professor, International Christian University
“ I find Sinoinsider particularly helpful in instructing students about the complexities of Chinese politics and what elite competition means for the future of the US-China relationship.”
Howard Sanborn, Professor, Virginia Military Institute
“SinoInsider has been one of my most useful (and enjoyable) resources”
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Professor Ming and his team’s analyses of current affairs are very far-sighted and directionally accurate. In the present media environment where it is harder to distinguish between real and fake information, SinoInsider’s professional perspectives are much needed to make sense of a perilous and unpredictable world. ”
Liu Cheng-chuan, Professor Emeritus, National Chiayi University