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Is China’s Xi Jinping Removing Possible Successors?

President Xi Jinping has moved decisively and unexpectedly against one of the top 25 Communist Party officials in the Politburo, Sun Zhengcai, once seen as a possible successor.

Sun Zhengcai was once seen as a high flyer in the Chinese Communist Party. He and one other were marked out in 2012 as likely successors to President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in 2022, when a handover to a successor generation is supposed to take place.

As a step in that direction, Sun was widely expected to be elevated to the (currently) seven-member Politburo Standing Committee at the Party Congress at the end of this year.

However, on 24 July the official news agency Xinhua announced that Sun was being investigated by the Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection (CCDI), which is likely to confine Sun to prison.

On 15 July it was announced that Sun had suddenly been replaced as Party Secretary of Chongqing by Xi ally and political rising star Chen Min’er.

Sun was also criticised in the party’s Chongqing Daily for not following the instructions of ‘core’ leader Xi.

It may also be that the absence of Wang Qishan, head of the CCDI, from public appearances was because he was preparing the ground for Sun’s investigation. Wang has in the past been absent before a major ‘tiger’ has been taken down. However, he surfaced in Guizhou, the province where Chen was Party Secretary.

Why Isn’t Sun Shining Anymore?

Back in 2012 at the start of his reign and before he could fully establish his power, Xi had two likely successors, Sun and Hu Chunhua (now Party Secretary of Guangdong province), when the pair were elevated to the Politburo.

Sun is rumoured to have been the protégé of Jiang Zemin, who ruled China from 1989 to 2002, and his lieutenant, Zeng Qinghong. However, Sun is now exposed because, unlike his predecessors, Xi has few restraints on his power.

He does not have a powerful Deng Xiaoping (who loomed over Jiang for much of the latter’s rule), just as Jiang himself had done the same for Hu Jintao after he relinquished power in 2002.

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