Jiang Zemin

Zhou Yongkang: Top policeman not averse to flexing muscles to get the job done

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2007, 12:00am

China's top policeman, Zhou Yongkang , owes his rise to power to a source completely unrelated to police work: his 30 years of experience in the country's oil industry, which has become a breeding ground for a new generation of political heavyweights.

Two of the new faces on the Politburo Standing Committee unveiled yesterday share an oil industry background: Mr Zhou and party organisation boss He Guoqiang . Others with similar experience include Hainan party secretary Wei Liucheng .

But their elevations have less to do with China's growing hunger for energy than the fact that by working in the oil industry their paths briefly crossed with that of Vice-President Zeng Qinghong - the party's powerbroker and one of the mainland's most influential politicians in more than a decade. Mr Zeng worked in the oil industry in the 1980s before moving to Shanghai.

Mr Zhou and Mr Zeng were believed to have established close ties and with patronage being a potent force in Chinese politics, Mr Zhou's stock rose fast following the rise of Mr Zeng.

Born in Jiangsu province near the home town of former president Jiang Zemin , Mr Zhou also benefited from local connections, with many senior officials, such as Beijing Party Secretary Liu Qi and former foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan , from the same region.

His entry into the Politburo is seen as part of the political horse-trading between Mr Zeng and President Hu Jintao which saw Mr Zeng officially retire from the top rank but continue to hold sway over important party affairs through his proteges Mr Zhou and Mr He.

Mr Zhou is set to take over the law and order portfolio from outgoing party chief Luo Gan . The immediate task awaiting him is to ensure security for next year's Olympic Games. Beyond that, Mr Zhou will be responsible for keeping close tabs on the restive countryside and the crime that plagues the country.

Mr Zhou, 64, has been the Minister of Public Security since 2002, heading the world's biggest police force, with more than 1.5 million personnel.

While hardly a charismatic leader, he is perceived by many in the party as effective and straightforward, and a man who will stop at nothing to impose order and stability on the restive countryside.

Within the public security world, Mr Zhou is credited with streamlining the police structure and making the force more professional and powerful. He also took the unprecedented step of sacking hundreds of police officers to stamp out a drinking culture, earning himself considerable prestige within the force and the approval of top leaders.

He also showed that he could be ruthless in dealing with external threats to the party. His ministry has tightened its grip on the Falun Gong, ethnic groups, rights activists and other 'subversive forces'.

Those duties are very different from his previous work as the country's top oil official.

After graduating from the Beijing Petroleum Institute in 1966, Mr Zhou rose to become the general manager of China National Petroleum Corporation - the country's largest oil and gas producer - in the mid-1990s.

He was appointed minister of land and resources in 1998 and a year later was made party secretary of resource-rich Sichuan province , where he stayed until becoming the public security minister in 2002.

Whether he can handle the challenges ahead remains to be seen, but at least the leadership and public can be assured he is in good health and is as energetic as ever. A month before the party congress, Mr Zhou visited a police station in the border province of Yunnan . Under the gaze of dozens of officers and mainland reporters, he did sit-ups and showed off his muscles.