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Politics

China's Xi eyes wide-ranging intelligence reform

Efforts may target security ministries, People's Liberation Army

A revamped national intelligence hierarchy likely will be approved at a March 2018 meeting of China's National People's Congress here in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

BEIJING -- The Chinese Communist Party and the government have decided to reorganize the State Council in spring 2018, focusing on bolstering the collection and analysis of intelligence related to counterterrorism and national security.

The Communist Party's Central Institutional Organization Commission has instructed relevant organizations to devise reform proposals that are to become a draft by the time the party holds its next National Congress in autumn 2017, where President Xi Jinping is expected to be re-elected to a second term. A final proposal likely will be submitted for approval at the National People's Congress, the country's legislature, during a meeting scheduled for March 2018.

Intelligence overhaul

Chinese sources say talks have occurred about reorganizing the Ministry of State Security, which keeps a watch over spies; the Ministry of Public Security, the nation's principal security and police authority; and intelligence-related organizations inside the People's Liberation Army. The aim is to create a system that lets the government comprehensively access intelligence at various related agencies.

Hong Kong news reports suggest the reforms likely will involve reconstituting the Ministry of State Security as a two-part body, one for monitoring spies in China and another for gathering intelligence overseas.

Xi's administration created the National Security Commission of the Communist Party in 2014 and appointed him as the commission chief, with an eye toward creating a central platform for controlling various intelligence agencies. But the commission appears to have hit a snag, since no activities have been reported after the group's first meeting in April of that year. Some now think the commission will be revived as the control center for newly reorganized intelligence agencies.

Power grab

The Ministry of State Security was under the strong influence of Zhou Yongkang until the former Politburo Standing Committee member and potential political rival of Xi was deposed on corruption charges in 2014. Some see restructuring of the ministry as Xi's attempt to strengthen his grip on the organization.

But the reforms may prove a difficult task even for the president, since intelligence agencies are notoriously independent and regard each other as rivals. It has been suggested that strong objections already are appearing against the idea of getting organizations belonging to the PLA involved with the Ministry of State Security.

Xi's push for intelligence reforms will serve as a litmus test for the strength of the president's power base going into his second term. The apparent attempt to boost his power comes as China's elites are increasingly concerned about the maintenance of social order amid the nation's economic slowdown and expanding wealth gaps.

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