18th Party Congress

Meng Jianzhu expected to be made security tsar at national congress

Meng Jianzhu has promised to maintain public order during the congress, but may soon be in charge of making the police more professional

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 12:56pm

Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu, widely tipped to succeed iron-fisted security tsar Zhou Yongkang at the Communist Party's 18th national congress, is likely to focus on professional policing rather than political campaigns, analysts say.

Professor Mao Shoulong, from Renmin University's school of public administration and policy, said Meng, a suave, 65-year-old State Councillor, will formally replace Zhou as secretary of the party's Political and Legal Affairs Commission at the congress.

"Meng will certainly take over Zhou's position because he is now Zhou's deputy on the commission," Mao said.

"The future role Meng will play and his political status in the top leadership will not be downgraded because maintaining the stability of our country remains the Chinese leadership's core goal."

Meng's role in reinforcing security ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and nationwide celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic the following year earned him enough political capital to guarantee promotion, Mao said.

As the mainland's police chief, he has also pledged to maintain public order in the capital ahead of the party congress, which will start on November 8.

"All police and soldiers should always stand firm in the right political direction … to ensure the victorious convening of the 18th party congress," Meng told subordinates in June.

Meng was born in Suzhou, Jiangsu, in July 1947. In 1968, as a 21-year-old rusticated youth, or zhiqing, during the Cultural Revolution's Down to the Countryside Movement, Meng joined the Qianwei Collective Farm on Changxing Island in Shanghai and began his climb up the political ladder.

He spent 16 years on the island farm, set up as the municipality's main food production base in 1958, becoming a party member after working there for three years.

In the first decade he worked as a sailor, dispatcher, secretary of the farm's Communist Youth League branch and publicity head of the local party branch's political department, before becoming the farm's deputy party head in 1977, at the age of 30.

A rising star in 1984, he was sent to the municipality's party school for two years of management training.

He became party head of Shanghai's Chuansha county after completing the course.

He became one of two Shanghai deputy mayors in charge of rural work in the early 1990s and was appointed the municipality's deputy party head in 1996.

Professor Zhu Lijia, from the Chinese Academy of Governance, where Meng studied in 1993, said he was "honest, studious and hard-working".

Zhu said: "He is a rare respectable minister in today's ministerial leadership."

Zhu became a close friend of Meng while he was studying at the academy and said the vice-mayor never put on airs when dealing with scholars and subordinates. "He is also a workaholic," Zhu said. "I know he's slept just four to six hours a day since he was very young."

Zhu added that Meng was a scholarly leader, keen on discussing political opinions with academics, but had never lost touch with the grass-roots because of his agricultural background.

He said he once called Meng, urging Shanghai to offer some aid to herdsmen on the Hulunbuir grasslands in Inner Mongolia. Meng personally led a team from Shanghai's Bright Dairy to the grasslands and it ended up establishing a production base there.

In 2001, Meng left Shanghai and became party chief of the southeastern province of Jiangxi , a post he held for six years. The party magazine Xiaokang Fortnightly said he inspected all 99 cities and counties in the province in his first three years there and talked to grass-roots farmers to learn of their struggles. The magazine said, however, that the usually amiable Meng adopted an iron-fisted approach to official misconduct while in Jiangxi, punishing many officials who neglected their duties.

He also encouraged local officials in the traditionally conservative province to be more innovative, inviting them to attend speeches by open-minded senior officials from other provinces, the heads of multinational companies and other specialists.

He helped the province double its economic output during his first three years in Jiangxi, the China Economic Times reported, and was a popular leader, with one song featuring the line: "If Jiangxi wants to acquire wealth, let's keep Meng Jianzhu."

Meng kept a low public profile in Shanghai, shying away from the media, but that changed in Jiangxi, where he often gave interviews. He was transferred to Beijing to head the Ministry of Public Security in 2007, replacing Zhou, who became a member of the Politburo Standing Committee that year.

In May this year, overseas media said Zhou, who will turn 70 in December, had been forced to hand operational control of the mainland's security apparatus to Meng after being asked to confess his errors in front of other party leaders after the ousting of disgraced Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai.

Zhou has been criticised for his heavy-handed tactics in overseeing the judiciary and public security, and Mao said Meng was likely to adopt a different style.

"Some leaders who oversee security and legal affairs want to turn our police and legal agencies into political tools, but others want to see them become more professional," Mao said.

"Zhou used them as a political tool to build up his own power base. I think Meng will adjust some things Zhou leaves behind and he might concentrate on the internationalisation and professionalisation of China's police and legal systems."

But Mao said Meng would not introduce big reforms if he succeeded Zhou.

"Meng still needs to stick to the party's basic line," he said. "Some reforms he might introduce would just be aimed at preventing senior police officers from following the fates of former Chongqing deputy police chief] Wen Qiang , Wang Lijun and other Chongqing police officers."

Wen was executed in 2010 for corruption uncovered in an anti-triad crackdown, spearheaded by Wang, Bo's right-hand man and the former police chief.

But Wang fell out with Bo and went to the US consulate in Chengdu in February with evidence against Bo and Bo's wife Gu Kailai , triggering a huge political scandal.

He was jailed for 15 years last month for abuse of power, bribe-taking, defection and "bending the law for selfish ends".

Mao said the downfall of Wen and Wang had hurt the morale of mainland police officers, and Meng might seek to restore it and also retain talent by improving the promotion system.