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China Shaking Up Spy Agencies?
Rumors abound that Xi wants a firmer hand on state security organs
The non-communist Chinese press was abuzz last week with rumors that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plans to reorganize its IC (intelligence community) by merging the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security together into a new organ of state security, directly under the Central Committee.
Citing Ming Pao (Hong Kong), China Times, a Taiwan news outlet, says here that the supposed new super-security organ, to be established under the CCP Central Committee, would be called the "Central Internal Affairs Commission" [中央内务委员会, Zhongyang Neiwu Weiyuanhui].
This rumor is also being written up in the usual Falun Gong-affiliated sources as well as Radio Free Asia’s new site. Supposedly, this reorganization will be announced during the "two sessions" (the NPC and the CPPCC) next month.
I have yet to find the original Ming Pao report: I don't see it on their website and wonder if it was taken down after publication, or if it was never there in the first place.
This sort of news is troublesome because no sources are ever cited, yet the nature of the information is that, even if completely accurate, it will be kept secret by the CCP, a highly conspiratorial organization that is generally good at keeping secrets.
I polled three scholars who have long studied the organs of Chinese state security. None none had heard any information to confirm or refute the idea of another PRC IC reorganization (the last one was in 2015, creating the PLA Strategic Support Force and before that, in 1983, when MSS was founded).
"Possible but not probable" said one, "it makes sense" said another, since Xi Jinping seems to favor consolidation of Party control and because of the longstanding issues of corruption in the ranks of both agencies. (See, for example, the downfall of former MSS Vice Minister Ma Jian.)
Some perspective: Before the creation of MSS as a ministry under the State Council, i.e., the government, in 1983, foreign intelligence was run by the Central Investigation Department of the CCP ( Diaochabu). That meant that the Party had direct control. And, as Michael Schoenhals pointed out in his landmark 2013 work Spying for the People: Mao’s Secret Agency 1949-1967, before Mao passed in 1976, even MPS, as a government ministry, called itself the Central Ministry of Public Security (my italics) as a hint that it considered itself to be under the Party, not the State Council, an opinion that Mao himself evidently shared.
All that is to say that moving both of these ministries under the Party Central Committee would not be a shock, but it would be a fascinating development to watch, perhaps signalling that Xi Jinping is still not satisfied with his degree of control.
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SpyTalk Contributing writer Matthew Brazil is co-author, with Peter Mattis, of the authoritative Chinese Communist Espionage, An Intelligence Primer.