Zhang Gaoli attends the news conference after the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People on March 17, 2013 in Beijing, China.  (Feng Li/Getty Images)Zhang Gaoli attends the news conference after the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People on March 17, 2013 in Beijing, China.  (Feng Li/Getty Images)

Xi Jinping is the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, but he doesn’t have complete control over the regime. Rather, former Party chief Jiang Zemin continues to influence matters of the day through his factional allies in key leadership positions, as well as through a vast political network.

This year, the overseas Chinese press speculated that Xi is looking to dismantle the Politburo Standing Committee—the highest decision-making body in the regime, and a key political tool Jiang has used to impose his will or check ruling Party leaders.

The recent purge of top Tianjin official Yin Hailin and other members of the so-called “Tianjin gang” appears to be a move by Xi Jinping to implicate Standing Committee member and former Tianjin chief Zhang Gaoli.

Targeting Zhang would afford Xi an excuse to discredit the existing structure of collective leadership at the top, and break free from Jiang Zemin’s control. 

Abolishing the Politburo Standing Committee?

Of the seven members in the Standing Committee, vice premier Zhang Gaoli, propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, and Chinese legislature head Zhang Dejiang are known allies of Jiang Zemin.

The two Zhangs and Liu have interfered with the rule of Xi Jinping.

Zhang Gaoli is linked with a massive chemical warehouse blast in Tianjin in 2015.

Zhang Dejiang, who also oversees the affairs of semi-autonomous Hong Kong and Macau, turned Hongkongers against Beijing by denying promised democratic reforms.

Meanwhile, Liu Yunshan is believed to be behind the efforts of state media and “nationalistic” bloggers’ casting Xi as a Mao-like figure.

Overseas Chinese media reported this year that Xi is dissatisfied with the Standing Committee system, and is considering dismantling it and adopting a presidential system. Indeed, Xi is already governing through several small but powerful policy panels, a sign that he is dissatisfied with the status quo.

Before Jiang Zemin stepped down as Party leader in 2002, he increased the number of Standing Committee members from seven to nine, and stacked the body with his allies. Each Standing Committee member ran his portfolio independently, resulting in a state of governance that one Chinese scholar described as feudal.

When Xi Jinping came to power during the 18th Party National Congress, the nine-member Standing Committee returned to a seven-member body.

The fall of Yin Haili

On August 22, the official website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) announced that Tianjin’s deputy mayor Yin Hailin was being investigated for “serious violations of discipline.”

From January 2000 until very recently, Yin, 56, served as the deputy director of the Tianjin Urban and Rural Planning and Design Institute. He was later appointed deputy director of the Tianjin Planning and Land Resources Bureau, and then promoted to director in December 2007. In May 2012, Yin was made Tianjin deputy mayor, Tianjin Political and Legal Affairs Commission deputy secretary, as well as Tianjin Municipal Planning Bureau director.

Yin’s swift rise up the political ladder coincided with Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli’s tenure as Tianjin Party Secretary from March 2007 to November 2012.

The Yin Haili-led Tianjin Municipal Planning Bureau appeared to be involved in the real estate corruption case of property developer Zhao Jin in 2014, as well as the massive explosions near the port of Tianjin on Aug. 2015. After the two high-profile incidents, there were rumors of shakeups at the Municipal Planning Bureau of Tianjin.

Indeed, after the announce of Yin’s arrest, a Tianjin official told semi-official press Beijing News that Yin’s demise has been speculated for quite a while, and he was linked with the Zhao Jin corruption case.

Zhao, the son of the Jiangsu Provincial Party Committee secretary-general, had leveraged on his father’s political post and connections to build a huge real estate empire. He was arrested by the authorities on June 2014, while Zhao Senior was taken away four months later. After that, officials in Tianjin’s Municipal Planning Bureau were purged one after the other. 

The Tianjin Gang

Compared to his serving in Tianjin’s planning authorities for over 30 years, Yin Hailin tenure in Tianjin municipality and law and security apparatus has attracted far less attention.

Several officials in Tianjin’s political and legal system have committed appalling abuses of power.

For example, Li Baojin, former deputy secretary of Tianjin’s Political and Legal Affairs Commission and head of the municipality’s prosecuting body, was detained and interrogated on June 12, 2006. The following year, Li was handed a death sentence with reprieve for taking bribes and embezzling public funds.

On June 4, 2007, Song Pingshun, the chairman of Tianjin’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, committed suicide in his office. Song, 62, had controlled Tianjin’s political and legal system for many years, and was Li Baojin’s long-time superior.

Later, Wu Changshun, then chief of the Tianjin Municipal Public Security Bureau, was placed under investigation. But the investigation into Wu was called off by Zhou Yongkang, then Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission deputy secretary, on the condition that Wu would oversee security for the Beijing Summer Olympics, according to respected Chinese financial publication Caixin.

Wu was eventually promoted to deputy head of the Tianjin Political and Legal Affairs Commission and vice chair of the Tianjin political consultative body. He held this positions until his arrest in July 2014.

Unlike Song, Li, and Wu, Yin Hailin did not make his career in the public security system.  But Yin eventually succeeded Wu Changshun nonetheless. Like Wu, Yin also had secret dealings with other powerful individuals.

Why the Tianjin Gang is Now in Trouble

The purge of deputies in Tianjin’s security and law apparatus can be traced back to the Chinese regime’s persecution of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong 17 years ago.

On April 25, 1999 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners gathered in Beijing and stood quietly outside Zhongnanhai to petition the authorities to release several practitioners who had been detained by Tianjin police.

The issue was resolved in a matter of hours after Falun Gong representatives spoke with Zhu Rongji, then Chinese premier. However, then Chinese leader Jiang Zemin seized the April 25 petition as a pretext to launch a large-scale suppression of Falun Gong.

At the time of the April 25 incident, Song Pingshun was Party Secretary of Tianjin’s Political and Legal Affairs Commission, and head of Tianjin’s Public Security Bureau. Wu Changshun was deputy director of the Public Security Bureau, and Li Baojin was head of Tianjin’s prosecuting body.

Song, Wu, Li, as well as former Central Political and Legal Affairs Party Secretaries Luo Gan and Zhou Yongkang, all have a hand in executing Jiang’s persecution campaign.

Incidentally, a distinct pattern has emerged in Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign: Many officials that have been investigated for corruption are also known to have persecuted Falun Gong.

The Yin Hailin-Zhang Gaoli connection

During Yin Hailin’s term as boss of Tianjin city planning officials, three of Tianjin’s districts— Tanggu, Hangu, and Dagang—were consolidated into a new area called Binhai. Yin is allegedly involved in the planning and construction of this Binhai New Area.

According to reports in overseas Chinese media, former Tianjin boss Zhang Gaoli made the development and opening up of the Binhai New Area one of his priorities.

Binhai New Area has numerous unfinished projects. A total of 60 billion yuan (about US$9 billion) was invested in Xiangluowan Business District, one of the 6 functional districts in Binhai New Area’s central business district. But Chinese media describe Xiangluowan today as a “ghost town.”

The development company Binhai New Area Construction Investment Group incurred a huge amount of debt. Liu Huiwen, former chairman of Tianjin TEDA Investment Holding Co. Limited, committed suicide in April 2014.

In 2014, the Party’s internal disciplinary agency sent inspection teams to Tianjin. On July 9, the inspection teams told the Tianjin Municipal government that state owned enterprises in Tianjin were frequently involved in “major graft and bribery cases,” and there was “major corruption issues in the urban development and construction sector.” 

According to some media reports, anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan ordered the Tianjin authorities to preserve the complete records of minutes taken at meetings of the province’s leadership since 2007. Wang also requested to view the original documents for government development projects, and insisted that “no one should tamper” with the paperwork. 

Zhang Gaoli is said to be involved in private venture and equity fund cases worth hundreds of billions of yuan.

When Zhang took over Tianjin in 2007, he promoted all types of venture capital and private equity funds. But from early 2010 to 2012, the Tianjin authorities suddenly investigated and closed down these firms, affecting hundreds of thousands of families who invested in them.

Many of those affected journeyed to Tianjin to petition and lodge complaints. Some of the protesters were heard shouting “Zhang Gaoli, return our money!”

Tianjin explosions

On Aug. 12, 2015, a series of catastrophic explosions rocked Tianjin when a chemical warehouse in Binhai New Area blew up.

Binhai New Area is Zhang Gaoli’s biggest achievement in Tianjin. Ruihai International Logistics, the company that owned the warehouse where the explosions occurred, was allegedly controlled by the relatives of Zhang.

A day after the explosions, an overseas website claimed in an article that the Tianjin explosion was the work of terrorists. “Conspiracy theories” the article wrote, suggest that “the Tianjin explosions are surely the by-product of a power struggle inside the Chinese Communist Party. A rogue side created the human tragedy, and this group’s purpose is to threaten, intimidate, and force a crisis that would lead to an impeachment of Xi Jinping”. This claim hasn’t been verified.

Meanwhile, an Aug. 23 report by Hong Kong tabloid Apple Daily, citing sources in Beijing, claimed that Xi Jinping held a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee on the night of the Tianjin explosion.

Some analysts believe that Jiang Zemin used the Tianjin explosions to bargain with Xi Jinping. Xi had reportedly detained Jiang temporarily in response.

To this day, the inside story of the Tianjin explosions hasn’t been completely revealed. The connection between Yin Hailin’s downfall and the rumors about Zhang Gaoli adds additional mystery to the explosion.

This February, the Chinese regime’s State Council approved the investigation of the explosions in Tianjin.

Translated By SQ Wu, Susan Wang, & Benjamin Ng. Edited by Sally Appert.

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Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, with less than one year remaining in his term, has been deeply embroiled in a “luggage-gate scandal,” causing his popularity to drop significantly again.
In early April, media revealed that Leung’s daughter, Leung Chung-yan, used her father’s position to impose pressure on airport staff to bypass security rules and retrieve a piece of forgotten luggage, thus staging a Hong Kong version of the “Li Gang incident” in mainland China. In the Li Gang incident, an arrested drunk driver tried to use his father’s position to avoid legal trouble.
The incident became known as the “luggage-gate scandal,” in which the problem was handled with a “special procedure for a special status.” The event remains ongoing.
While Leung’s plan to seek re-election was in crisis, Epoch Times received the information that when Leung invited Politburo Standing Committee member and National People’s Congress (NPC) Chairman Zhang Dejiang to attend the “One Belt, One Road” forum on May 18, Leung and the Liaison Office planned to deploy and instigate a riot larger in scale than the recent Mongkok civil unrest.
In the New Territories, they have started recruiting participants. However, Leung’s hidden agenda of another Mongkok incident, under the intervention of different political powers, ended with a whimper rather a bang.
Popularity falls
According to the latest polls of the Public Sentiment Index revealed by the University of Hong Kong, Leung’s popularity has dropped 10 percent from the previous one.
Leung’s net approval rating (the difference between his approval rating and disapproval rating) is now -41 percent.
Commentator Lai Chak Fun believes that the luggage-gate scandal may trigger Leung Chun-ying to step down at any time, he believes if Leung steps down, the grievances will disappear and the support for Hong Kong independence will naturally shrink, because Leung causes more people to support Hong Kong independence.
Attempt to start riot
Epoch Times received information that Leung started to “recruit soldiers” in the New Territories through the Liaison Office.
Leung planned to disguise the recruits as “Hong Kong independence” supporters and then start a riot like the Mongkok civil unrest during this first week of May, that is, before Zhang Dejiang, who leads the Central Coordination Group for Hong Kong and Macau Affairs visits Hong Kong. The riot would have targeted parallel traders and tourists from mainland China.
Intervention from different power groups aborted Leung’s hidden agenda.
According to the informant, the deployment organised by Leung and the Liaison Office was intervened and resisted by the corresponding departments responsible for Hong Kong affairs.
In addition, local power groups were unwilling to provide manpower. Therefore, Leung’s hidden agenda “ended in miscarriage”.
However, a potential incident did occur near the border on May 1.
Hong Kong independence
In recent days, as Leung’s chance for re-election fades, pro-communist newspapers, the pro-Leung camp, and some officials have continually published comments against issues like Hong Kong independence and “national self-determination” allegedly trying to transfer the public’s focus away from the luggage-gate scandal.
While attending an Executive Council meeting on Apr 26, Leung did not respond to the airport scandal. Instead, he took the initiative to raise the issue of Hong Kong independence.
Leung said, “Some people promote Hong Kong independence or self-determination, trying to make 7 million Hong Kong people shoulder the political and economic consequences, and seriously dampen mainlanders’ interest in visiting Hong Kong. This will also strike Hong Kong, especially the employment of the ordinary people”.
After that, some pro-government media, such as Ta Kung Pao, continuously published headline articles that attributed the poor economy and the decrease in mainland tourists to Hong Kong independence.
In regard to the recent provoking reports on Hong Kong independence, commentator Lai Chak Fun said that Hong Kong independence is actually fabricated by Leung and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Lai said that Leung’s re-election strategy is to produce “political scarecrows” and imaginary enemies.
“During the [CCP’s] Two Sessions, the Mongkok civil unrest was suppressed,” Lai said. “Now the event has been raised again and exaggerated, because Zhang Dejiang will come this month.
“At the same time, there is news that the Politburo Standing Committee meeting in June will set the tone for the policy towards Hong Kong. They may decide who can be the candidate for the Chief Executive. Now is the last chance to fight for nomination,” Lai added.
“Therefore, they needed to concoct the issue of Hong Kong independence, enabling the CCP hardliners to shout out: ‘Because of the existence of the force of Hong Kong independence, we need a solid hardliner like Leung Chun-ying to be re-elected for the job,” Lai said.
Stephen Shiu Yeuk-yuen, a senior Hong Kong media worker and political commentator, recently talked about Hong Kong independence when he was interviewed by Nextplus. Shiu suspected that some members of the Localism Camp are actually selected by the Liaison Office.
For example, some so-called radical local groups announced that they would send quite a few people to run for the Legislative Council election this year, and their sources of funds are in question, Shiu told the magazine.
“Now it seems that many organizations just casually elect five to seven individuals to run for the election, as if the funding is not a problem. Where does the money come from? No wonder some people have doubts about them,” Shiu added.
Zhang Dejiang’s visit
China expert Shi Cangshan told Epoch Times that Zhang Dejiang, being a member of the faction of Jiang Zemin and the nominal top officer in charge of Hong Kong affairs, expressed his high-profile support for Leung prior to the Umbrella Movement in 2014, but Xi Jinping made Zhang a mere figurehead after the Umbrella Movement.
“However, this time Zhang will visit Hong Kong at a time that is not July 1, the SAR government’s anniversary. The purpose of this visit is probably to find out the real situation of the candidates for the next Chief Executive and then report it to the Politburo,” Shi told Epoch Times.
“Leung must have spotted the opportunity. Thus, Leung attempted to intensify the contradictions with the supporters of Hong Kong independence and even trigger more serious bloodshed. This would not only provide CCP hawks

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