What next for the heavy-handed cross toppler close to Xi Jinping?

Presidential ally Xia Baolong has been tipped for a top party job but who is the rising star?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 April, 2017, 11:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 April, 2017, 11:48pm

If Zhejiang Communist Party boss Xia Baolong does get the nod to oversee the country’s security and judiciary apparatus, President Xi Jinping will have locked in a trusted ally in yet another key party post.

Sources close to the party say Xia may become head of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission. Should the appointment go through, it would give Xi one more close associate in control of a strategically important position, adding to Guizhou party boss Chen Miner, Beijing mayor Cai Qi and Shanghai mayor Ying Yong.

Xia’s appointment also means that one more Xi ally can advance to the Politburo, the party’s top echelon, at its national congress later this year. In addition, Chen, Cai and Ying have a good chance of a seat at the Politburo table.

Chinese presidential ally steps down as Zhejiang chief ahead of power reshuffle

Xia, 64, has been Zhejiang’s party boss and a member of the party’s Central Committee since late 2012. Xi has been on an aggressive push to consolidate his power for a second term in office and build a team loyal to the “Xi core”.

Xia and Xi worked together for more than four years in Zhejiang in the mid-2000s when Xi was the province’s party secretary and Xia was his deputy. Xi went on to become party chief of Shanghai in 2007.

Chen Daoyin, a political scientist at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said Xi and Xia had a similar approach to administration. “The two share many similarities in terms of their governing styles, with the most noticeable being their hard-handed approach towards civil society and dissidents,” Chen said.

Xia entrenched his reputation as a conservative hardliner when he launched a campaign that ­removed more than a thousand crosses from church roofs across Zhejiang and, in some cases, demolished entire church buildings.

The crackdown began in 2015 and was reportedly prompted by a visit Xi made to Wenzhou in late 2013, expressing displeasure at the prominence of church buildings on the city’s ­skyline. Known as “China’s Jerusalem” due to its large and vibrant Christian population, Wenzhou was the city hit hardest by the cross-removal campaign, which made headlines overseas and was strongly opposed by Zhejiang’s Christian community.

The authorities claimed the removal of crosses was part of a wider campaign to clear illegal structures in the province, but many believed it had the president’s backing. Xi has repeatedly warned against the influence of foreign forces – seen as a threat to the party’s grip on power.

The Zhejiang authorities also imposed exceptionally tight security measures for the Group of 20 summit in the provincial capital of Hangzhou last year.

For what was the highest-profile gathering of international leaders the country had hosted, several parts of Hangzhou, including the tourist district around its famed West Lake, were turned into ghost towns, with roads closed and shops shut weeks before the summit. The city was filled with security personnel and its periphery was ringed by checkpoints. After the summit, Xi spoke highly of the Zhejiang and Hangzhou authorities, praising them for their “strict security measures” and “reliable logistics support”.

In ‘China’s Jerusalem’, ‘anti-terror cameras’ the new cross for churches to bear

Xia is also seen as a faithful follower of Xi and his policies. While in the top job in Zhejiang, Xia spared no effort to celebrate his predecessor’s legacy. As part of that cause, the party’s provincial committee gathered for a high-profile meeting in July last year to commemorate Zhejiang’s first decade of “rule by law”, a policy proposed by Xi in 2006.

“In the past 10 years, we have unremittingly followed the path of making Zhejiang a province ruled by law, which was carved out by comrade Xi Jinping. We overcame all difficulties, scoring many achievements in practice, in theory and in administration,” Xia was quoted as saying during his speech at the meeting.

Zhejiang Daily, which ran more than 200 columns by Xi when he was Zhejiang’s party chief, went into overdrive, publishing front-page articles on the topic for four days in a row in July, touting Xi’s achievements and enshrining the policy catchwords he put forward.