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  • Jul 29, 2014
  • Updated: 3:01am
Zhou Yongkang
CommentInsight & Opinion
WHAT THE MAINLAND MEDIA SAY

Silence surrounding ex-security tsar Zhou Yongkang speaks louder than words

Former security tsar Zhou Yongkang's disappearance from state-controlled news media confirms his political demise

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 April, 2014, 5:19am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 April, 2014, 5:19am

The saying "No news is good news" may not apply on the mainland, where no news may portend the fall of a once high and mighty official.

Take the case of former security tsar Zhou Yongkang, who has been implicated in a sweeping corruption investigation that led to the arrest of some of his family members and close associates.

Zhou's name has all but vanished from state-controlled news media. Last week, the Southern Metropolis Weekly carried a report on retired members in the 17th Politburo Standing Committee, of which Zhou was a member. The report detailed the committee members' lives since their retirement in November 2012.

But Zhou's name was conspicuously absent. The article by the Weekly, an affiliate of Nanfang Daily, an organ of the Guangdong Communist Party, came amid a flurry of reports on retired leaders.

On April 11, former president Hu Jintao visited a university in Hunan province. He also visited disgraced Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang's residence.

On April 3, influential former Politburo Standing Committee member Wu Bangguo visited the White Cloud Temple, a Taoist institution in Beijing. Last Saturday, former chief propagandist Li Changchun visited the Shaolin Temple in Henan.

Meanwhile, Jia Qinglin, formerly the fourth-highest-ranking standing committee member and former chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, attended an art exhibition in Beijing in February and went on an inspection tour of Suizhou, Hubei province, last month.

Former premier Wen Jiabao is reportedly writing a new book and has met old friends recently. He also attended an event to honour Xi's father and a key reform figure, the late Xi Zhongxun.

Former Central Commission for Discipline Inspection chief He Guoqiang published his book, a compilation of his speeches and essays on party-building during his tenure as chief intra-party disciplinarian, in January.

As for Zhou, his last public appearance was at an alumni event at the China University of Petroleum on October 1, according to the Weekly.

Party leaders have historically shunned public appearances once they leave office, emerging from seclusion only upon the incumbent administration's requests, usually to serve a specific political purpose.

For instance, Hu's visit to the residence of Hu Yaobang, a mentor, was to show his support for reforms promoted by the late leader - a political reform icon whose death in 1989 became the rallying call for a nationwide pro-democracy movement.

Retired leaders sometimes also surface to deny allegations against them. This was said to be the motivation behind Wen's appearance. The former premier sent a signed letter to a former Hong Kong National People's Congress delegate in an apparent effort to deny a report by The New York Times regarding his family's wealth.

In his letter to Ng Hong-mun in December, Wen denied leveraging his office for personal enrichment. The letter was published in a local newspaper.

Beijing has refused to confirm or deny the existence of a probe into Zhou, despite the allegations swirling in overseas media that he stands at the centre of one of the nation's biggest corruption scandals, involving billions of US dollars.

But Zhou's long absence from public view and the media blackout have, in effect, confirmed his political demise. The omission of any mention of him in the Weekly's feature was not an oversight by the publication's editors, who know full well that such an error could easily cost them their jobs if Zhou were still considered a revered former leader.

In a nation that strictly censors the media, a silence - such as that surrounding Zhou - can be deafening.

cary.huang@scmp.com

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