Has China's security chief Zhou Yongkang escaped chop?

  • 21 May 2012
  • From the section China
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China's security chief Zhou Yongkang applauds after signing an agreement on economic cooperation with Nepal, in Kathmandu, Nepal. August 16, 2011 (file photo).
Zhou Yongkang appears to still be wielding power

Have China's top leaders now settled any differences caused by the purging of Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai?

For weeks there's been speculation that the downfall of Mr Bo, an ambitious and rising Politburo member, might lead to the fall of an even more powerful figure, China's security chief, Zhou Yongkang.

That would be an event of real significance as it would signal rifts at the very top of China's Communist Party at what is a highly sensitive time, ahead of the elevation of a new generation of Communist leaders later this year.

There have been fantastical rumours of attempted coups involving Mr Zhou, and talk, last week, that he had been sidelined.

Mr Zhou is one of the nine men who sit at the very top of the Communist Party and make all the crucial decisions in the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

His job is overseeing China's enormous internal security services, from the police to the prosecutors and the courts. He controls a budget of well over $100bn (£630m) a year, more even than goes to the army.

It has been claimed that Zhou Yongkang was the only Standing Committee member to defend Bo Xilai when claims emerged that Mr Bo's wife may have been involved in the alleged murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, in China, and that Mr Bo himself may have tried to protect her from investigation.

Now there are signs that Mr Zhou may have survived what could have been a very dangerous moment for him.

'Picked unanimously'

In the cryptic way these things happen in China the signs are not easy to spot.

But late last week the Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, reported on its front page that Mr Zhou had made a trip to visit the western region of Xinjiang.

The stories seemed to signal that he might still be wielding power and had not been sidelined himself.

Then it was announced Mr Zhou had been picked, unanimously, to be a delegate representing the western region of Xinjiang at the Communist Party Congress due to happen this autumn in Beijing. The Congress is where the new generation of leaders will be confirmed in post.

The news came in the Xinjiang Daily newspaper and on the website of the State Council, China's cabinet.

The fact that Mr Zhou will definitely be at the Congress seems to be a sign that he is now in the clear, and China's leaders may have papered over their differences, if indeed they had any.

As ever we don't know the full story of what has happened and what has been decided at the top level of China's leadership, if anything.

That's an odd but real characteristic of a nation of over a billion people, where the decisions and debates of the leaders carry ever greater significance for the rest of the world.

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