“Anyone challenging Xi Jinping can now be seen as committing a political crime,” said Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia regional director for Amnesty International. “I think that is very different from what everybody understood before — that yes, if you were resisting, opposing or going through bureaucratic strategies to get around new directions you could be taken down by a number of accusations, including corruption or a serious breach of discipline, but not accused of something that is far more serious, which is a political plot.”
Mr. Xi opened the twice-a-decade party congress on Wednesday with a 205-minute speech that outlined his vision of a country resuming its position of world leadership while facing continuing threats to the primacy of the Communist Party at home.
Next week a new lineup of the Politburo Standing Committee will be unveiled. While the exact makeup is not known, the new standing committee, which is the top echelon of political power in China, will further cement Mr. Xi’s control.
Under Mr. Xi, the party has carried out an extensive crackdown on corruption that has seen more than 1.5 million officials investigated in the past five years, including 440 at the provincial level or above.
The purge has also targeted several top officials who had the potential to undermine Mr. Xi’s authority. Along with Mr. Sun, Mr. Liu named Bo Xilai, a former party secretary of the southwestern megacity of Chongqing; Zhou Yongkang, the former security czar; Ling Jihua, a top aide to former President Hu Jintao; and the former generals Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong.
He said that by removing these men, Mr. Xi, “with his tenacious will, strong sense of responsibility and extraordinary political wisdom, resolutely and comprehensively enforced strict party discipline, solved the problem that severely threatens the governance base and ability of the party.”
Mr. Sun had been party secretary of Chongqing, a city of 30 million where he was sent in 2012 to help clean up one of the country’s biggest political scandals, the fall of Mr. Bo and his top deputy, Wang Lijun, who had been police chief there. Mr. Sun was seen as a possible candidate for elevation to the Politburo Standing Committee, at the party congress underway.
But in February he was criticized in a party inspector’s report as having failed to fully stamp out the legacy of Mr. Bo, who was purged for corruption, abuse of power and a murder committed by his wife, Gu Kailai.
Mr. Sun was apologetic after the report and resolved to strengthen his efforts to wipe out the legacy of Mr. Bo, who had been a popular figure in Chongqing. But he disappeared from public view on July 15, just days after pledging his loyalty to Mr. Xi.
He pledged to “comprehensively and thoroughly remove the bad influence of Sun Zhengcai and the leftover poison of the thoughts of Bo and Wang.”
One of the accusations against Mr. Sun — trying to “usurp the leadership of the party and seize power” — has historical significance from a high-profile purge that followed the death of Mao Zedong. It was used against the Gang of Four, the officials, including Mao’s last wife, who were arrested in 1976 and blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution.