Two positions have been eliminated on China’s Politburo Standing Committee, including the powerful head of the Political and Legal Affairs Committee. That committee oversees China’s internal security apparatus and has a declared budget of more than $100 billion—larger than that of the Chinese military.
It’s not entirely clear what motivated the decision; Chinese politics are notoriously opaque. But many China-watchers point to the Bo Xilai scandal. Zhou Yongkang, the former head of the committee, hesitated to confront Bo, who was a contender for the post before his ouster. If the widely popular Bo had gained control of the security apparatus, he would have been in a powerful position to challenge party leader Xi Jinping for control of the country. Now Bo is hunger-striking as he sits in jail, and the security post is merely a part of the regular Politburo, outranked by the seven Standing Committee members. China’s leadership seems to have successfully consolidated power.
It remains to be seen whether this will improve the rule of law in China, which Xi Jinping has claimed is an important goal for his administration. But it will certainly allow the current members of the slimmed-down Standing Committee to exercise more complete control over China’s massive security apparatus.