The first episode of a five-part anti-graft documentary titled Zero Tolerance (《零容忍》) — produced by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) and CCTV — featured former Vice-Minister of Public Security Sun Lijun and his group of “political cronies”, offering an eye-opening look into the level of power he held and the damage caused.
This group also included Wang Like, former member of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Standing Committee for Jiangsu and secretary of the Jiangsu Provincial Political and Legal Affairs Commission; Gong Daoan, former Shanghai deputy mayor and former head of the Shanghai Public Security Bureau; Deng Huilin, former Chongqing deputy mayor and former head of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau; and Liu Xinyun, former Shanxi deputy governor and head of the Shanxi Public Security Department.
The documentary also revealed that the probe into Sun’s group is ongoing, and the central authorities have decided to open investigations into former Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua and others, showing that Fu — who was previously vice-minister of the Ministry of Public Security — was linked to Sun’s group.
The 52-year-old Sun is the youngest in the group, but is also the core person who brought the group together. How did he get so powerful? The story begins with his “growth”.
The birth of a kingmaker
The documentary revealed that after Sun graduated from university, he started out by joining some Wenzhou businessmen in selling steel, to earn money to buy properties and cars. Subsequently, his father pulled strings and arranged for him to work in the health department in Shanghai, and he began to think about how to make money from health and medical resources.
In 2001, Sun convinced a pharmaceutical businessman to let him play the middleman. He would link up government officials and hospitals, while the businessman contributed capital and ran the business. They agreed to a 30-70 split of the benefits.
Sun’s CV shows that he successively served as deputy director of the Foreign Affairs Office of Shanghai Municipal Health Bureau, deputy director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Shanghai People's Government, deputy director of the General Office of the Ministry of Public Security, director of the First Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security handling domestic political security, as well as vice-minister and member of the Party Committee of the Ministry of Public Security.
Sun’s interactions with those in his group were completely based on transactions of power, money and sex.
In 2008, Sun was moved from the Foreign Affairs Office of the Shanghai People's Government to be deputy director of the General Office of the Ministry of Public Security, becoming secretary to State Councilor and Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu, a major leap in Sun’s career. While the documentary did not show how Sun achieved this, it gives a glimpse into the power of Sun and his backers.
Wheeling and dealing with high stakes
As secretary to the top person in the Ministry of Public Security, Sun gave full play to his authority and influence. On the one hand, he was dealing with unlawful businessmen in transactions of power and money; on the other hand, he was giving out jobs for the boys and creating his clique. The documentary said Sun’s interactions with those in his group were completely based on transactions of power, money and sex.
Soon after Sun became secretary to the minister of public security, the canny Wang Like — then head of the Dalian Public Security Bureau — felt Sun was in an important position with a bright future. In 2011, when Sun was on a business trip to Liaoning, Wang gave him for the first time a bank card with a deposit of a million RMB in it (about S$200,000), which Sun accepted without demur.
Sun said: “He (Wang) came to Beijing about four or five times a year and gave me US$300,000 each time, which he put in a small seafood box. Each time he came, he said, ‘I'm here to give you some small seafood,’ and I knew what was going on.”
By the time of the investigation, the “small seafood” given by Wang Like to Sun Lijun over the years amounted to more than 90 million RMB. Nor did Sun disappoint Wang. Sun said: “He went to Jiangsu as a vice-governor and public security department chief, and later became a member of the Standing Committee of the Jiangsu Provincial Party Committee and secretary of the Political and Legal Committee. I helped him along the way. I regarded him as one of us.”
In 2013, Wang was promoted from deputy head of the Liaoning Public Security Department to become the assistant to the governor of Jiangsu, where he was also deputy governor and head of the Public Security Department. In 2015, he was promoted to be a member of the CCP Standing Committee for Jiangsu and secretary of the Jiangsu Provincial Political and Legal Affairs Commission. At the time, Sun was just a director in the Ministry of Public Security, ranking below Wang. How did he help Wang get promoted?
While no longer secretary to the senior leader, Sun clearly still had his ear — how else could a bureau-level cadre help Wang to get promoted to a position at the vice-ministerial level?
Power to move officials like chess pieces
The secret probably lies in the fact that Sun was previously secretary to Meng Jianzhu. After the 18th Party Congress in 2012, Meng was promoted from minister of public security to Politburo member and secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission. While no longer secretary to the senior leader, Sun clearly still had his ear — how else could a bureau-level cadre help Wang to get promoted to a position at the vice-ministerial level?
Sun’s power did not stop there. In 2010, he recommended Gong Daoan — head of the Xianning Public Security Bureau in Hubei province — to deputy head, then head, of the Ministry of Public Security's operational technology bureau. In June 2017, before Meng stepped down as Politburo member and secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, Sun helped Gong to get promoted to head of the Shanghai Public Security Bureau and Shanghai deputy mayor.
Gong not only served Sun himself, he also helped Sun to build up and run his clique. Gong was the one who recommended Deng Huilin, who was then head of the Yichang Public Security Bureau in Hubei province. Sun helped Deng get promoted to director of the General Office of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, then head of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau and Chongqing deputy mayor. In 2014, Sun found another crony in Liu Xinyun, who was transferred from head of the Jinan Public Security Bureau to head of the Department of Cyber Security of the Ministry of Public Security, using him to get hold of confidential information that Sun would not otherwise have access to at his level.
If Sun had so much power as the secretary to a minister, how should the minister be monitored?
In 2018, Sun himself became the youngest vice-minister of public security, where he set a “15-year plan” to get promoted once every five years. The documentary did not go into detail about Sun’s “five-year promotions”, but going up three levels from vice-minister of public security would mean executive deputy minister of public security, minister of public security, and secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission.
Sun’s case was probably the trigger for the decision by the Chinese top leadership to start reeducating the Political and Legal Affairs departments across China from 2021. The aim of the exercise is to get rid of black sheep and thoroughly treat stubborn “maladies”.
However, the fact that Sun’s group managed to blatantly do as they wished even amid the strong anti-corruption efforts by the top leadership in recent years clearly reflects that serious gaps still remain in the CCP’s monitoring framework both within and outside of the party. If Sun had so much power as the secretary to a minister, how should the minister be monitored? Clearly, the CCP’s inward-looking “self-revolution” is indeed a heavy long-term responsibility.
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