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Leadership: Central Security Bureau’s Leadership Change

Recently, Xi Jinping appointed Zhou Hongxu (周洪许) as the Director of the Central Security Bureau (中央警卫局). Coming from the position of Deputy Chief of Staff of the Northern Theater Army, Zhou is the first Central Security Bureau’s head appointed from outside instead of being promoted from within.

Cheng Xiaonong, an expert on China issues, wrote a lengthy article to explain the importance of the Central Security Bureau to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) top leader and how appointment of the bureau’s director works.

The Central Security Bureau is best known for its role in the political coup in 1976 after Mao Zedong died. At that time, Marshall Ye Jianying, Prime Minister Hua Guofeng, and Security Chief Wang Dongxing joined forces and ordered the guards of the Central Security Bureau to arrest the “Gang of Four,” including Mao’s wife Jiang Qing. This coupe ended the disastrous Cultural Revolution in China, and thus was praised as a heroic action.

Cheng explained the inside operation of the CCP system. There is only one ultimate TOP LEADER of the CCP system, who may or may not hold the highest official title. For example, then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping let his subordinates Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang hold the highest CCP’s position – General Secretary of the CCP.

The TOP LEADER secures his power via effectively monitoring/controlling other officials.

He uses three key units of the CCP General Office (中央办公厅) to carry out the control: the Confidential Bureau (机要局), the Health Services Bureau (保健局), and the Central Security Bureau (警卫局).

The Confidential Bureau serves confidential documents and manages the confidential phone systems. Ministers and officials above the ministerial level, have a four-digit-number confidential phone, which is called the “red phone” due to its red case. There is also a “39” phone system, since those phones have their numbers start with “39” and then five digits afterward. The “39” phones are installed at Zhongnanhai, the Great Hall of the People, the Diaoyutai Hotel, and the Yuquanshan Guest House. The Confidential Bureau monitors both the red phones and the 39 phones.

The Health Service Bureau provides personal health care to the few top CCP officials, including health checkups, daily medication, and treatment plans in case of illness. This bureau directly reports to the TOP LEADER and many times only the TOP LEADER knows the real health problem of the other officials. For example, Mao Zedong knew that his Prime Minister Zhou Enlai had cancer but didn’t tell Zhou; Mao also decided not to conduct a cancer treatment operation for Zhou.

The Central Security Bureau is responsible for the safety of the TOP LEADER. The unit also assigns personal security guards to other high-ranking officials.

Though staff members from these three units are assigned to serve individual officials, they report back to their own bureau, so their true loyalty stays within the bureau but not with the official they are serving. They are the eyes and ears of the TOP LEADER to monitor other officials’ actions.

Therefore, the head of the Central Security Bureau is very important to the TOP LEADER. When a new top leader takes power from the incumbent, he will naturally want to replace the director, but he may wait for a few years before doing it. One reason is that if he does it immediately, it shows he does not trust the incumbent leader and creates tension. The other reason is that he may need time to find someone that he can truly trust.

From 1978 to 1994, Deng Xiaoping used Yang Dezhong (杨德) as the Director of the Central Security Bureau. Deng also took the three key units out of the CCP General Office and put them under the Central Military Commission, which he directly controlled. There are three top leadership titles in China, Deng had the title of Chairman of Central Military Commission and gave the other two, CCP General Secretary and President of China, to others.

Jiang Zemin inherited all the powers after Deng passed away. Jiang held all three big titles and moved the three units back under the CCP General Office. From 1994 to 2007Jiang installed his loyalist You Xigui (由喜) as the head of Central Security Bureau.

The next leader, Hu Jintao, took the top office in 2002, though Jiang still had the real power. It took Hu five years, that is, not until 2007, was he able to replace Jiang’s man You Xigui by his own person Cao Qing (曹清).

When Xi Jinping took over in 2012, Xi kept Cao to show his respect and trust to Hu. After more than two years, Xi was ready to replace Cao. He disclosed the information to the New York Times and the BBC that the Central Security Bureau used his “air force one” to smuggle ivory from Africa, and then used that excuse to move Cao out. Xi promoted Wang Shaojun (王少军) to the Director position from 2015 to 2019.

In 2018, Xi appointed Chen Denglv (陈登铝) as the Deputy Director and Political Commissar of the Central Security Bureau. Chen was an outsider appointee, coming from the position of the Political Commissar of the 91st Division of the 31st Group Army in Zhangzhou, Fujian Province. Xi worked in Fujian from 1985 to 2002 and the 31st Group Army is considered Xi’s loyalist army. Chen ran the Central Security Bureau from his Deputy Director position after Director Wang left. The director position was vacant from 2019 until the recent  appointment of Zhou Hongxu.

Xi’s appointing outsiders as both the Director and Deputy Director of the Central Security Bureau had two risks: One, the bureau’s internal officials might see little hope for promotion. Two, the bureau’s current staff might worry whether Xi would get more outsiders to replace them. These do not help Xi to control the Central Security Bureau so that he can monitor other officials.

Despite these risks, Xi still chose outsiders rather than an internal promotion. This indicates that the officials of the Central Security Bureau might have been involved in CCP in-fighting, that CCP in-fighting is active, and that Xi is worried about the Central Security Bureau’s loyalty to him.

Source:  Epoch Times, July 17, 2021