The recent change of command of the “Zhongnanhai bodyguard” and the change of the head of the Central Security Bureau from an insider to an outsider has been widely reported in the official media of the Communist Party of China. Such a report inevitably leads to speculation about what the change means. The official media revealed the news, indicating that this move is of vital importance to the CCP; and the official media explained the change of horse in many ways, lest there be more speculation. Speculation is obviously inevitable, the key is how to interpret? The key is how to interpret it? This is to start with the operation of the CCP’s top security system.
A. Xi Jinping transferred field force officers to head Zhongnanhai security
On July 15, the Central Security Bureau, which is in charge of the CCP’s central guard, changed hands, with Xi Jinping breaking with his usual practice of recruiting “foreign ministers” to the central guard instead of promoting them from within. According to a report by the official media “Dovetail News”, the core background is to ensure the political stability before the 20th Communist Party Congress. The official media said that the Central Security Bureau is under the direct command of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee and guards the central party and government organs, the core of which is the Central Security Corps, where the personal safety of the top leaders of the CPC can be said to depend on.
Dovetail also mentions that in 2012, the Central Security Bureau was involved in an accidental incident that could have affected the distribution of power at the top of the central government, when the director of the Central General Office, Ling Plan, irregularly transferred the Central Security Bureau to cover up the car accident of his son, Ling Gu… Historically, the Central Security Bureau played an important role in the arrest of the Gang of Four. “The Central Security Bureau played an important role in the arrest of the Gang of Four, and Cao Qing himself was a personal participant. Cao Qing was the predecessor of Wang Shaojun, the last head of the Central Security Bureau.
Wang Shaojun worked in the Central Security Bureau for a long time and was promoted to deputy director of the Bureau in 2009. 2015 saw the departure of former director Cao Qing, who was replaced by Wang Shaojun as director of the Bureau. 2018 saw the sudden transfer of Chen Denglu, political commissar of the 91st Division of the Army’s 31st Group Army based in Zhangzhou, Fujian, to deputy director of the Central Security Bureau and political commissar of the Central Security Regiment. Then, Wang Shaojun stepped down as head of the Central Guard Bureau at the end of 2019. Throughout 2020 and the first half of 2021, the Central Guard Bureau has been without a director, with the deputy director presiding over operations. It was not until a year and a half after the post of Central Guard Bureau chief became vacant that Zhou Hong Xu, deputy chief of staff of the Army in the northern war zone, was recently transferred to the post of Central Guard Bureau chief, replacing the vacancy left by Wang Shaojun a year and a half ago.
This phenomenon of a “Zhongnanhai bodyguard” lacking a commander is already very rare in itself, and has never happened since the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party until 2019; what is even more rare is that Xi Jinping did not promote the director from the Central Security Bureau, a relatively closed special system, but filled it with people from the field forces instead. The CCP’s Central Security Bureau is a very special and top-secret operation, and people familiar with security operations are usually promoted from within the Central Security Bureau to fill this important position.
However, Xi Jinping has left the crucial post of head of the Central Security Bureau vacant for a year and a half in the last two years, and has finally made it a point not to use candidates from within the Central Security Bureau, but to draw people directly from the field forces to take on this responsibility. Is it because the position is no longer important? To understand the special nature of this position, one needs to understand the security system of the top CCP leaders.
II. The real source of power of the CCP’s top leaders
The operation of Zhongnanhai’s guard system is not just the commonly understood security function of top-level guards; it is actually the way the power control system of the CCP’s top leaders is implemented. There are two levels of meaning here: First, the CCP, even under the name of collective leadership, has always had only one top leader. And the personal power of this supreme leader, who really controls the fate of the other top people, does not come from his nominal top position in the party; that is, who is the real supreme leader of the CCP depends on whether he holds the actual power to control the other top people. Second, the real power of the supreme leader is actually implemented in his ability to control the day-to-day monitoring of other top personnel. This ability relies on direct mastery of the central security bureau, the secret service and the health care department. With these three departments in the hands of the supreme leader, the personal safety of other top personnel was completely in the hands of the supreme leader.
In Mao’s time, the Central General Office of the CPC was in charge of three major operations: the first part was secretarial and confidential operations, including the Secretarial Bureau, the Bureau of Confidential Communications, the Bureau of Confidential Transportation, and the Archives Bureau, which had a large number of people and a large volume of business, involving such things as paperwork processing, confidentiality of confidentiality, archives management, meeting organization, and incoming letters and visits; the second part was the life services of top leaders; and the third part was the security guards of top leaders. Although the secretarial and archival operations of the Central Office have a large workload and many personnel, they are not so important to the actual power of the top leaders; what really reflects the personal power status of the top leaders are the Central Security Bureau, the Secret Service and the Health Bureau.
The Bureau of Secret Transportation is responsible for transmitting secret documents, while the Bureau of Secret Communications is responsible for two telephone systems at the top level. One was the classified telephone system, also known as the red telephone because of the use of red-cased telephones, which were installed mainly in the offices of ministers and above and had a separate 4-digit telephone number. The other telephone system was called “39” bureau until the 1980s, and the first two digits of its 7-digit telephone number were 39, mainly installed in Zhongnanhai, the Great Hall of the People, the Diaoyutai Hotel and the Yuquanshan Guest House. 39 bureau telephones, although apparently belonging to civilian telephones, were actually under the control of the Central General Office’s Bureau of Machine The Bureau of Communications is responsible for the control of all red telephones and the telephones of the 39 Bureau system.
The Health Bureau is responsible for the health care of a small number of people at the top, including health checks, daily medication, and treatment plans in case of illness. The Health Bureau is directly accountable to the top leaders personally, and much of the information is only available to the top leaders themselves. For example, from what has been disclosed now, Zhou Enlai was not allowed to know about his cancer in his later years, but his condition was reported to Mao Zedong, and Mao Zedong had to decide whether he needed an operation. After Zhou’s early cancer was discovered, treatment surgery was delayed by Mao until it had spread to advanced stages of cancer and surgery was approved again, when there was no way back.
The Security Bureau was first responsible for the personal security and safety of the top leaders, and also assigned personal guards, or security secretaries, to other members of the top echelon; in addition, the Mao-era Central Security Bureau was responsible for arranging guards for the top echelon’s main places of activity, namely Zhongnanhai, the Great Hall of the People, the Diaoyutai Hotel and the Yuquanshan Guest House, as well as for the guards accompanying the top personnel.
The top leader maintains his personal power by directly controlling the Central Security Bureau, the Secret Service and the Health Bureau to monitor other top personnel. Under such a monitoring system, it is conceivable that those other top personnel whose every move is controlled can not start another business. This is a Mao-style way for the top leaders of the CCP to control their personal power, unlike the situation after Stalin in the Soviet Union.
Third, the Central General Office can be virtual or real
Many people think that these three departments have always been under the control of the General Office of the Central Committee, and whoever the General Secretary of the CPC is, he can control these departments. In fact, this is not necessarily the case. When Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were general secretaries, the three departments were not under the control of the two general secretaries, but of Deng Xiaoping.
When Mao was still alive, he made his crony Wang Dongxing head of the General Office of the Central Committee, taking charge of the Central Office’s Security Bureau, the Secret Service and the Health Bureau, the three core components of power control at the top of the Communist Party. And after Deng Xiaoping took the reins of power, around 1981, he reassigned the Security Bureau, the Department of Mechanics and the Health Bureau, which had been part of the Central General Office, to the Central Military Commission, which he himself controlled, with Yang Dezhong, a close confidant of Zhou Enlai and one of the former heads of the Central Security Bureau, whom Deng trusted, as the chief of security, and Yang also served as deputy director of the Central General Office in order to keep tabs on the dynamics of the Central General Office. Through this means, the personal security of Chen Yun, Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang and Li Xiannian, the top people, was completely in Deng Xiaoping’s hands. Because of this, no other senior personnel dared to challenge Deng Xiaoping.
Under this system of power control by the top leaders, it was not convenient for the top people to meet privately because their security secretaries were always aware of the activities of these top people; other top people outside the top leaders could not communicate with each other privately by confidential phones because the monitoring of these phones made the content of the conversation completely transparent, and with cell phones, the top people were not allowed to use their cell phones personally. This system of guards was part of the centralized control of the top leaders, and the guards were not under the control of the chiefs they were guarding, but were under the orders of the higher Central Security Bureau. From this perspective, the guards were both guards and, in fact, surveillance officers.
After Deng Xiaoping’s death, as the Chairman and General Secretary of the Military Commission were reassigned to a single person, Jiang Zemin returned the three departments mentioned above to the control of the Central General Office, and they have never been changed since. From this, it can be seen that who controls these three departments not only reflects who in fact has the highest power in the CCP, but also reflects whether the Central General Office is in a state of real or imaginary power; if these three departments are not under the control of the Central General Office, the Central General Office is imaginary power, and the General Secretary does not have the status of the highest leader; when these three departments return to the Central General Office, it means that the Central General Office becomes real power again.
Fourth, the replacement of the head of the Central Security Bureau
For most of the history of the CCP, the Central Security Bureau was a subordinate unit of the Central General Office, but it was also separated from the Central General Office for more than a decade (i.e., during the Deng Xiaoping era). For each of the top leaders, the choice of the head of the Central Security Bureau was directly related to his ability to achieve control over other senior personnel. The former chief of security was a close friend of the “old master”, who had a lot of top secret personal information for the “old master”, and usually had a deep relationship with the “old master”. The “new master” cannot be fully trusted. Therefore, new top leaders often replace the head of the Central Security Bureau.
However, the incoming top leaders usually do not replace the Central Security Bureau chief on the day of their arrival because they have two considerations: first, although the predecessor has handed over, but if the Central Security Bureau chief is replaced immediately, it will openly reveal the mutual distrust between the predecessor and the predecessor, which may cause friction or even conflict between the two; second, to replace the former security chief, the incoming top leaders must examine the new candidate and find someone they can trust. It will take some time to find someone he can trust.
Deng Xiaoping announced after June 4, 1989 that he would no longer be the chairman of the military commission, but the Central Security Bureau remained under the jurisdiction of the Central Military Commission, under the control of Deng’s close friend Yang Dezhong, and this was the backbone of Deng’s warning to Jiang Zemin in 1992 that “whoever does not reform will step down. At that time, the nominally civilian Deng Xiaoping, through Yang Shangkun control of the military, and Yang De-zhong command of the three highest power of the core departments of security, security and health care, so the “civilian” Deng Xiaoping in fact still control the fate of the famous both as General Secretary and Chairman of the Military Commission, Jiang Zemin can only be to Deng Jiang Zemin could only obey Deng.
After Deng’s southern tour in 1992, Jiang Zemin, through the help of Zeng Qinghong and with the support of Chen Yun, Bo Yibo and other patriarchs, persuaded Deng Xiaoping to cut his power. The company’s main goal was to convince Deng Xiaoping to cut off Yang Shangkun’s military power. Then, until 1994, when Deng Xiaoping was too ill to see the job, Jiang Zemin dared to arrange for his cronies to replace Yang De-zhong by Xigui, who has since really taken control of the power of the top leader. After Hu Jintao came to power in 2002, the situation was very similar. Hu’s position as “top” leader for the first five years was always tenuous, as it was still Jiang Zemin’s close associate, Yuki, who controlled the three core departments of security, secret service and health care. Hu Jintao first promoted Cao Qing, who had been promoted from within the Central Security Bureau, to executive deputy director of the Bureau in 2006; it was not until 2007 that Hu removed the head of the Central Security Bureau, Yu Xigui, and replaced him with Cao Qing.
When Xi Jinping took office, the head of the Central Security Bureau was still Cao Qing, who had been promoted during the Hu Jintao era. Xi Jinping also wanted to replace Cao Qing, but did not move to show respect for Hu Jintao. Xi Jinping waited until more than two years after he took office to use the Central Security Bureau to smuggle ivory from Africa on his special plane, and exposed the matter through the mouths of foreign media by passing information to the New York Times and the BBC. Cao Qing was then replaced, and the key position of head of the Central Security Bureau was taken over by Wang Shaojun, the former deputy head of the Bureau. However, Xi Jinping did not let Wang Shaojun also serve as deputy director of the Central General Office, which means that Xi Jinping still does not trust Wang Shaojun very much, so he wants his close friend, Li Zhanshu, director of the Central General Office, to keep Wang Shaojun in check.
V. Xi Jinping trusts the Central Security Bureau?
In the history of the Communist Party, the director of the Central Security Bureau has always been the most trusted “internal” security chief of the top leaders, and the new director of the Central Security Bureau is promoted from within, each time a new director is “a new general but not a new soldier”, so the internal security bureau system will not The new director of the Central Security Bureau is promoted from within, and each time a new director is replaced, it is “a change of general but not a change of soldiers,” so there is no shock within the security bureau system because of the change of director. But this year, Xi Jinping broke with his usual practice and used an outside candidate to take control of the Central Security Bureau system, which raises two problems. First, he has blocked the career path of officials within the security bureau system who have been promoted from one level to another, which will naturally make these officials dissatisfied; second, this arrangement has given a clear signal that after the external transfer of people to serve as the director and deputy director, the future may “change the general also change the soldiers,” although it may only be ” mixed with sand”, that will also cause the Central Security Bureau system within the hearts and minds of the floating. There is no doubt that this practice of “trusting outsiders rather than domestic slaves” will certainly cause a shock in the Central Security Bureau system, which is in charge of the actual power control of the top leaders, and this shock is quite risky for Xi Jinping.
Why Xi Jinping would rather take such a risk, but must not promote new people from the guard bureau system? The Chinese Communist Party’s official media, “Dovetail News”, did say the truth: “can avoid long-term immersion in Zhongnanhai within the influence of high-level conflicts and struggles.” This sentence is the key to understanding Xi Jinping’s move. Two messages can be deciphered from it.
First, a number of key cadres within the Central Security Bureau system have been involved in power struggles at the top of the CCP. This at least indicates that the power struggle at the top is now active again, and the “personal loyalty” of key cadres in the Central Security Bureau to Xi Jinping has made him suspicious. Obviously, on the eve of the 20th Communist Party Congress, there is a not-so-weak force at the top to end Xi Jinping’s rule; and for Xi Jinping, whether this force can effectively link up and form a climate depends on whether the Central Security Bureau, a tool to monitor members of the top, can be used freely. Thus, by transferring people from the field army to control the Central Security Bureau and tighten the monitoring of senior members, it has become a means for Xi Jinping to deal with the power struggle at the top.
Second, although Xi could not select the “head” of the Central Security Bureau from among the cadres of the Central Security Bureau system who were familiar with security operations, and the military cadres transferred from the field army were completely unfamiliar with high-level security operations, Xi could only trust these field army cadres, at least they were not familiar with the people and events at the top of the capital and did not dare to get involved in the The power struggle whirlpool. An article in Dovetail News stated, “Drawing from the field forces ‘into the capital’ is naturally conducive to freeing them from the complex entanglement of high-level interests in Zhongnanhai, but if there is no change from the management command mechanism, I am afraid that the original intention of the top brass may not be realized.” The meaning of this statement seems to be that the two new Central Security Bureau director and deputy director may not be able to command the Central Security Bureau inside the “old greasers”.
There is still more than a year before the “20” meeting of the Chinese Communist Party, and the analysis of the change of horse of the Chinese Communist Party’s Security Bureau of the quarters, can be seen from some of the so-called “Zhongnanhai trends.