Xi Jinping consolidates self-coup —amid repression

After years of centralizing power in his own person, China's president and party secretary Xi Jinping secured a third leadership term Oct. 23 at the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. The new seven-member Politburo Standing Committee is stacked with loyalists, abandoning the practice of balancing rival tendencies within the body. This cements Xi's place as China's "paramount leader" in the autocratic tradition of Mao Zedong. Premier Li Keqiang is to step down, replaced by Shanghai party chief Li Qiang, who followed Xi onto the stage at the Great Hall of the People as the new Standing Committee was introduced. A new party doctrine has been promulgated under the banner of "Two Establishes"—establishing Xi's place as the core of the CCP, and establishing Xi Jinping Thought as guiding the CCP. For the first time in a generation, there are to be no women sitting on the 25-member Politburo.  Xi's third term as party leader is unprecedented since Deng Xiaoping. (Reuters, NYT, CHRD, Bloomberg, Bloomberg, BBC News)

As loyalists of Xi's more liberal predecessor Hu Jintao were purged from the Politburo, Hu himself was physically removed from the closing ceremony of the Congress. Video from AFP showed the frail elder statesman, who had been seated on the podium alngside Xi, being shepherded out by attendants. It seemed symbolic and choreographed, and there is much skepticism about the official explanation that he had suffered a health emergency. (Sinocism, NYT, The Guardian)

On Oct. 13, eve of the opening of the Congress, a lone protester draped a banner from Beijing's central Sitong Bridge, reading: "We want food, not PCR tests. We want freedom, not lockdowns. We want respect, not lies. We want reform, not a Cultural Revolution. We want a vote, not a leader. We want to be citizens, not slaves." Another handwritten banner called for workers and students to strike and depose the "dictator and traitor Xi Jinping."

The protester, identified as Peng Lifa, better known by his online name Peng Zaizhou, was immediately arrested. But he quickly became a sensation on Chinese social media as "Bridge Man"—prompting authorities to ban that phrase and related search terms and hashtags from the internet. Some who expressed support for him online have been harassed by the police. But there was at least one public protest evidently inspired his action: Video emerged on social media Oct. 23 showing a small group of young women marching along a street in Shanghai singing "The Internationale" (a song associated with the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests) and holding a banner reading "Want. Don’t want. Want. Don’t want." (The Guardian, China Change, Mind Matters News, RFA, VOA, PRI, Asia Markets)

The lead-up to the National Congress (a spectacle held every five years) saw another wave of arrests and "pretrial detention" of dissidents and human rights defenders. (CHRD)

More anti-lockdown protests in China

Residents in Guangzhou's Haizhu district broke through lockdown barriers on Nov. 14 and spilled into the streets, in a public protest against China's restrictive COVID response. Though the videos were immediately scrubbed from the internet by Chinese censors, an analysis by Freedom House found there have been dozens of protests related to COVID policies in recent months. (TNH)

Protests at giant iPhone plant in Zhengzhou

Protests have erupted at the world's biggest iPhone factory in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou. Videos show hundreds of workers marching, with some confronted by men in hazmat suits and riot police. Those livestreaming the protests said workers were beaten by police. Manufacturer Foxconn said it will work with staff and local government to prevent further violence. In its statement, the firm said some workers had doubts about pay, but that the company would fulfil payment commitments based on contracts. It also described as "patently untrue" rumors that new recruits were being asked to share dormitories with workers who were COVID-positive. (BBC News)

China's foreign minister becomes an 'unperson'?

During the fourth session of the 14th National People’s Congress Standing Committee on July 25, the Chinese government announced a cabinet reshuffle involving the replacement of Qin Gang as minister of Foreign Affairs.

Qin Gang, China's youngest-ever foreign minister at 55, has not been seen in public since June 25. He last attended official meetings in Beijing, where he met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. However, he has since missed several high-level diplomatic events that he was expected to attend, including the visits to China of US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Chinese officials have not commented on Qin’s whereabouts or the reason for his absence. Government official websites and state media have also removed information about and speeches by Qin, who has been replaced with Politburo member and veteran diplomat Wang Yi for upcoming conferences.

James Mayger, Bloomberg's Beijing correspondent, tweeted earlier this month about his exchange with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin regarding the health explanation for Qin Gang's absence. Wang told Mayger that a statement had already been made, but the Q&A regarding Qin's health was missing from the press conference record.

The sudden replacement of China's foreign minister has also raised international and domestic concerns about the country's foreign policy, particularly its relations with the US. Qin's previous experience as China’s ambassador to the US made him a valuable asset in maintaining communication between the two countries.

The "disappearance" of top officials is not uncommon in China's opaque political system. However, the lack of any official reason or explanation for the latest removal has sparked conjecture and questions about transparency within China's leadership. Until Chinese authorities provide clarification about Qin's status, health or reasons for his replacement, uncertainty and speculation will likely continue to swirl around one of China's highest-profile diplomatic roles during a sensitive time in China-US relations. (Jurist)

China's ex-foreign minister Qin Gang resigns as lawmaker

China's former foreign minister Qin Gang, who was abruptly removed from office last year and has not been seen in public since, has resigned as a lawmaker, according to state media. Qin's resignation as a representative for the port city of Tianjin to China's 14th National People’s Congress was accepted Feb. 27, state news agency Xinhua said.

The former foreign minister was removed after just 207 days in the job last July without explanation. He was replaced by Wang Yi, a veteran diplomat who served as foreign minister before Qin and who outranked him in the Chinese government hierarchy. (HKFP)

China: top banker indicted for bribery, embezzlement

The former chairman of China Everbright Group, Tang Shuangning, who used to serve as a senior official at the People's Bank of China and the China Banking Regulatory Commission, is under indictment on bribery and embezzlement charges. (Jurist)

Financial corruption has recently been a cause of popular unrest in China, as Xi continues to expand his capitalist purge

China announces investigation of government minister

Tang Renjian, China's secretary of the Party Leadership Group and head of the Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Affairs, is under investigation for violations of law, the country's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) announced on May 18. He is currently undergoing disciplinary review and supervisory investigation. (Jurist)