Wednesday, 19 July 2017

And Another One Bites The Dust—Except The Dust Hasn’t Settled

Various new reports indicate that Chongqing party chief Sun Zhengcai [孫政才] has been placed under investigation by central authorities here in China. Xinhua and other news outlets confirmed his removal, and his replacement by Guizhou Party secretary Chen Miner [陈敏尔].

And that’s all anyone outside of the inner leadership circles of the Communist party knows right now.

However, that’s not stopped some from claiming that Sun was a potential successor to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and that Xi removed him because Sun was seen as a possible threat.

Or maybe it’s that Xi is consolidating power (again and still—a canard that’s apparently never going away). Sun is one of those political dominoes apparently, whose disappearance is a sign that Xi plans to remain at least through next term and possibly beyond. That’s one interpretation—maybe the leading one for many at this point.

Then again, some have stated, perhaps this is all part of a larger struggle between political factions, and that Sun’s removal is a blow against—wait for it—“liberal factions” of the Communist party (whatever they are, given that there’s been no mention of them previously and little evidence that anything of the sort exists these days).

The straight reporting on this development has been revealing, especially because at least one newspaper broke the story before the official announcement.

It’s the speculation that’s rather grating.

After all, if Sun’s removal was predictable, why wasn’t it predicted? No one did so. That should say something about how much of what passes for analysis is actually just conjecture. Taking down Sun was surprising, if only because nobody said to watch out for it. Why? Because no one saw it coming, even though many are saying that it’s all about That Well-Known Struggle For Power In China.

Then there are the rumors about possible corruption charges against Sun. But they remain just that—rumors. While charges of graft might be added on to Sun’s charge-sheet later, previous announcements of high-ranking officials being removed usually feature an accompanying mention of their malfeasance. But not with Sun, at least thus far.

Anyway, how precisely does taking down Sun help Xi?

That’s not discussed. The supposition—and that’s all it is, at best—is that anyone who gets politically decapitated these days is because Xi’s in charge, and the victim is someone he doesn’t like, and needs to disappear. That’s bizarre, because China has something called a collective leadership--albeit with Xi at the core. Party rules and regulations render any change in upper ranks an arduous process that can’t be made by a single individual. But that isn’t mentioned, perhaps because it’s just easier to single out Xi, even though he doesn't get to make personnel decisions unilaterally.

It is probably worth noting that there’s an assumption where this case is being made: That Xi’s in command, but he’s trying to consolidate power further, because that’s why Sun was removed. That’s some magic Xi’s engaged in, winning fights while he’s still fighting.

Isn't it possible that Sun was dismissed not because of Xi’s wishes, but in spite of them? That Sun was an ally (which is what many media outlets outside China mooted before) and his removal does harm to Xi, rather than assist him to—there it is again—consolidate power? In that case, Xi’s not strengthening his position, but seeing it weakened.

Given the lack of actual inside information, that conclusion is just as likely an explanation as the alternatives that have been presented. Indeed, just about any scenario is possible at this point.

So here’s another one.

Sun was topped because he turned out to be ill-suited to the task he was assigned. 

Chongqing isn’t an easy place to govern (ask Bo Xilaijust not the BBC about Bo Xilai) at any time, and Sun was being asked to go in and straighten up the municipality (not just any city) after his predecessor had taken it in the wrong direction.

Party media hadn’t been shy about highlighting various shortcomings in Chongqing for some months now. (Praise, when it did appear, was faint, and tended to focus on minor projects.) When leading Party media calls attention to problems in a given location, it’s a sign that there’s a consensus in the leadership here that governance isn’t proceeding the way Beijing wants it to.

Fixing Chongqing was Sun’s remit, and he appears to have failed at it.

That may not be sexy or headline-grabbing or fit into The Establishment Narrative of leaders who spend all their time looking to take down others simply because they want more power. But given what Party media has indicated, it makes more sense than the notion that it's just Xi being Xi, when that cannot be.

Still, it's a scenario, a hypothesis--and is here labeled as such.

Where the removal of Sun Zhengcai leaves Xi Jinping and his comrades isn’t clear. More indicators may appear—actual pieces of evidence--in the coming days. Until then, anything else is just dirt. 

No comments:

Post a Comment