“Once upon a time in Chongqing…”
Bo Xilai came to fame fighting corruption and restoring law and order in one of China’s mega-cities. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it before – it only has 28 million inhabitants. Compared to New York’s 22 million it’s somewhat significant.
In this fairy tale back in 2007 he was appointed as the Communist Party of China (CPC) Chongqing Committee Secretary, first-in-charge of the Western interior municipality. He gained fame during a strong program against organised crime. He also championed the rights of the disenfranchised and poor. To many he was a leader of the “New Left” as a counter-balance to the free market extremes seen across China today.
He had an out-sized personality and a growing cadre of admirers. He was tipped to join the nine person Politburo Standing Committee of China. These are the nine most influential people in all of China.
Then it unraveled.
In March Bo’s top lieutenant and chief of police sought refuge in the U.S. Consulate. Wang Lijun entered the U.S Consulate in Chingqing on 6 February in an attempt to defect. He stayed for 10 hours and was later expelled. The Obama Administration refused his request for asylum. This event led to Bo Xilai’s loss of his Party post and his removal from the Politburo in March this year.
Today the unraveling became monumental.
Bo Xilai has been stripped of his Communist Party membership. He is suspected of “serious discipline violations” according to Xinhua, the state news agency. Furthermore his wife is being held in prison. She is “highly suspect” in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
On one level this is a moral tale of a politician who aspired to greatness and reached too far. A modern day Icarus. In his drive to stop corruption and organised crime he thought himself above the law. The flight of his police chief to the U.S. Consulate – was that a man trying to flee an autocrat’s reach? And the wife involved in a murder – couldn’t a top Communist boss just make that disappear? Relocate the action to Florida and I swear I saw that episode on CSI: Miami.
But in China there is never one level. Yes the above may be proven true. But there’s an epic battle on between the ruling members of the Politburo Standing Committee for leadership of the country. Later this year the country’s leadership will change. Vying for power are free market reformists, traditional Communists and members of the New Left (think New Labour with free rice). Bo Xilai was a populist leader who promoted Maoist ideology.
Amid the intrigue and rumour there have been facts – and fictions:
- FACT: At the close of the recent meeting of the National People’s Congress, Premier Wen Jiabao held a now-famous three hour press conference. He said the leadership of Chongqing should “reflect and learn from” the scandal caused when the police chief tried to defect.
- FICTION: Supporters of Bo Xilai attempted a coup at the Zhongnanhai compound for Party leaders in Beijing. Rumours circulated quickly on Chinese micro-blogging site Sina Weibo.
- FACT: Micro-blog site Sina Weibo users were blocked from commenting on other posts in an unprecedented crack-down to try and stem rumours of a coup.
- FICTION: Bo Xilai said hs wife was a “stay at home Mom” but investigations by The Wall Street Journal show her involved in several businesses in China, Britain and the US.
Today some facts remain. Businessman Neil Heywood is dead. Bo Xilai has been stripped of all titles. His wife, Gu Kailai, is in prison facing charges of poisoning Mr Heywood. And in the process, an epic power struggle for the future of China has been laid bare.
Stay tuned. This fairy tale is far from an ending.
“Happily Ever After?”