Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bo Xilai purge, a return to dark days of Mao

Last week Premier Wen Jiabao spoke of much needed reforms or see a return to the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, but only one day later the party chief of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, was ousted from his position. It was a move reminiscent of the infamous purges that took place in the 1960s during the Cultural Revolution and a sharp reminder that those at the top in China's government strongly guard their positions.

Political scandal

Bo Xilai's dismissal is perhaps most sensational political scandal to hit the Chinese Communist Party in recent years, and it has also shocked inhabitants of the city he administered. Many people in Chongqing regarded him as a colourful and popular politician who had brought prosperity to a Chinese backwater. But for those in the Politburo he was seen as too ambitious.

Since he began to govern the vast metropolis of Chongqing he set to cleaning out corruption as well as making vain attempts at sweeping away the heavy smog that hangs over the city.

He launched a campaign against organised crime during which hundreds of people, some of them senior city officials, were charged, convicted and jailed. He brought in a popular police chief, Wang Lijun, whose crime-fighting exploits had once inspired a TV series.

But when Bo Xilai's his campaign against corruption and his political ambitions were scuppered after his police chief mysteriously visited a US consulate in February.

"Wang Lijun incident"

The US government confirmed Wang Lijun had visited one of its consulates, but did not give any further details. Many speculated he might be seeking asylum after he had himself been removed from his post and was said to be on leave because of "stress" [BBC].

Some reports suggest Wang Lijun, who was the police chief and vice-mayor under Bo Xilai in Chongqing, visited the US consulate office in Chengdu following an apparent probe by the party into bribery allegations against him.

Wang is said to have met consul general Peter Haymond and two other US officials. He left the US mission the next day and was received by police troops and some Chongqing officials including mayor Huang Qifan. But the details still remain hidden with both Chinese and US authorities offering little information.

Calls for Unity

While there is much discussion and analysis in the western press, the subject of Bo and Wang have scrubbed from the headlines. Instead China's leadership have called on the public in Chongqing to unite behind the Communist Party.

"Unite our thinking and actions around the decision of the central leadership," said one of the front-page headlines of the Chongqing Times, which was given over to calls for conformity. "The voice of the party centre is a reassuring tonic," said another [Reuters / Telegraph]. Any discussion about Bo or Wang are being heavily censored in China with any mention on micro-blogs or blogs being quickly deleted. This post was also posted in both English and Chinese on Tianya, but was swiftly deleted.

Bo's Maoist campaign

Bo brought a revival of Mao Zedong-inspired propaganda which irked moderate officials. His Communist revolutionary-inspired "red" culture and egalitarian growth, won national attention with a crackdown on organised crime and much popular support amongst Chongqing residents.

Thousands were arrested, hundreds convicted, and 14 people executed, amongst them local officials and businessmen, and political rivals.

The Red campaign also spawned 10,000 revolutionary singing events, 8,000 "Red" story telling events, and half a million Red mottoes sent by text messages. "We are promulgating Red classics to boost the Red spirit", one official said of the campaign.

Bo's "strike black" campaign which targeted millionaires, local officials, police officers and gangsters involved in bribery, prostitution, gambling, drugs and guns was reminiscent of Mao's revolution that had also set to tackling crime in many forms. His efforts in this regard have been be lauded. By the early 1950s he had successfully stamped out drug dealing and prostitution across much of China. He also set to stamp out corruption, something that had been endemic under Chiang Kai-Shek's rule. From local administrations to central government everyone was under scrutiny, everyone but Mao himself.

But Bo, in his campaign against corruption, was perhaps getting too close for comfort for those in Beijing. Doing something to earn his own position is one thing, but by targeting his own comrades placed him in the gun sights of the Party.

Hypocrisy and contradictions

Like Mao, Bo had his own contradictions. Bo espoused Maoist slogans while sending his son, Bo Guagua [薄瓜瓜 lit. Thin Melon Melon], to be privately educated at Harrow, followed by Oxford and Harvard.

And while many people in Chongqing will see much of Bo's work to eliminate crime as laudable, his efforts were in part an attempt to elevate his own position and influence. Bo also benefited financially from his post while talking much about the growing wealth gap in China.

Power shifts

With the exit of Bo, Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang took over the leadership in Chongqing for the time being. The party also officially announced the removal of Wang Lijun from his vice-mayor post. Meanwhile Wen Jiabao this week said the results of the investigation into the so-called "Wang Lijun incident" will be made public and "should be able to stand the test of law and history." However, he gave no time table as to when the report will be published. It remains to be seen how transparent the investigation is and if the population of Chongqing will see it a mere face saving propaganda.

Some roles in the new leadership have already been assigned with Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang taking the top two positions of President and Premier. Some reports suggest Bo will not give up in his effort to seek a post in the Politburo. His chances are slim however, and there are already strong hints as to who the other seven members are to be [The Star].

In Chinese politics it pays to follow the line and not tread on too many toes. While Bo achieved much for Chongqing, he became a threat to those in power and deviated too far from the path set out by Beijing.  [Pictured: Bo Xilai. Playing cards courtesy of MostWantedChinesePlayingCards]

[Further reports: The Star / Telegraph / Time / WSJ / FT / BBC / CNN / CNN video]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

No comments: