BEIJING -- In the latest challenge to China’s embattled national security czar, a group of retired Communist Party officials in western China has released an open petition calling for his resignation.
The petition alleges that Zhou Yongkang, 69, whose powerful Political and Legislative Committee oversees the national security and legal apparatus, is responsible for a widely reviled Maoist revival led by Bo Xilai, who was ousted in March as party secretary of Chongqing.
"Behind the scenes, they tried to make Chongqing the headquarters for another Cultural Revolution," the petition said, referring to Mao Tse-tung’s disastrous purge of the intelligentsia and elite.
The open letter also accuses Zhou of squandering millions of dollars on unnecessary and repressive public security measures.
"Zhou Yongkong and Bo Xilai were the same. They tried to bring China back to the days of Mao, and for that they are traitors to the nation," said one of the signatories, Zhao Zhengrong, in a telephone interview.
The petition was posted on a U.S.-based Chinese-language website, Canyu.org. It was signed by 16 people, 10 of them party members, all from Zhaotong, in Yunnan province, 130 miles from Chongqing. Zhao, 83, who is retired from a party discipline and inspection unit, said the views of the retirees also represented those of many younger people who were fearful of signing a petition because they are still in the workplace.
Zhou is one of the most powerful men in China and a member of the nine-man Standing Committee of the Politburo. He is believed to be the only one of the nine who opposed sacking Bo in March, when a scandal erupted over the alleged murder by Bo’s wife of a British business consultant in Chongqing.
The Financial Times reported last week that Zhou had been relieved of many of his responsibilities in favor of Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu.
Along with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, Zhou is due to retire this year during the 18th Congress of the Communist Party. For the sake of internal stability, political analysts say he is unlikely to be forced to resign because he already is, in effect, a lame duck.
Public petitions such as the one calling for Zhou’s resignation are rare but not unprecedented. The most famous open petition challenging the Communist Party in recent years was Charter 08, a manifesto signed by hundreds of intellectuals in 2008 calling for political and legal reform. One of the authors, imprisoned writer Liu Xiaobo, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.
-- Barbara Demick
Photo: Military police march past the Great Hall of the People beside Tiananmen Square in Beijing on May 16, 2012. Credit: Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images