Xi's ally tipped as next head of security

Potential post for hardliner 'a major move by President Xi to tighten grip on power'

HONG KONG • A well-known hardliner who is a close aide of Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to be appointed to a key role to oversee China's law enforcement and security apparatus ahead of the country's major power reshuffle, sources say.

Mr Xia Baolong, party secretary of Zhejiang province, will likely become the new head of the Central Politics and Legal Affairs Committee, two independent sources familiar with the matter told the South China Morning Post.

Mr Xia, who is known for his controversial campaign to remove crosses from church roofs in Zhejiang province, would replace the incumbent, Mr Meng Jianzhu.

State-run Xinhua news agency reported yesterday that Mr Xia has left his Zhejiang party secretary position.

Mr Xia's potential new post is seen as a major move by Mr Xi to tighten his grip on power ahead of the 19th party congress in the later part of this year.

Mr Xia Baolong will likely be the head of the powerful Central Politics and Legal Affairs Committee.
Mr Xia Baolong will likely be the head of the powerful Central Politics and Legal Affairs Committee.

"Xia's close relationship with President Xi... is the main reason for his promotion," said one source, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

"Xia has the full trust of Xi."

The 64-year-old Mr Xia had worked as Mr Xi's deputy when the latter was Zhejiang party secretary from 2003 to 2007.

He is widely seen as a key member of the New Zhijiang Army, a term coined by political pundits for officials who worked under Mr Xi during his rise. Zhijiang is another name for Zhejiang.

The second source told the Post that Mr Xia and Sichuan party boss Wang Dongming had been the two front runners for the important role and that Mr Xia appeared to have emerged victorious.

Mr Xia became known for his hardline approach in 2015 after he ordered a campaign to tear down crosses from the roofs of churches in the city of Wenzhou, dubbed China's Jerusalem. The campaign was later expanded across the province.

Earlier this month, churches in Zhejiang were ordered to install surveillance cameras in an effort to counter terrorism.

The Central Politics and Legal Affairs Committee was formerly run by disgraced security czar Zhou Yongkang. Zhou, a former Politburo standing member, was the highest-ranking cadre to be jailed since the Gang of Four after the Cultural Revolution.

After Zhou's downfall, the committee became less prominent in the Communist Party ruling structure. But it remained one of the party's most powerful committees.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2017, with the headline 'Xi's ally tipped as next head of security'. Print Edition | Subscribe