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    Greater China
     Apr 25, 2012


SUN WUKONG
Party struggles to put the lid on Bo
By Wu Zhong, China Editor

HONG KONG - In an apparent effort to minimize the political shocks from the dismissal of Chongqing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary Bo Xilai and rampant speculation of what he had done wrong, the CCP is now trying to play down the incident as an isolated "criminal case".

This strongly indicates that Beijing does not want the removal of Bo, also one of the 25 powerful politburo members, to escalate into an internal political struggle that could destabilize the transition of power at the 18th party congress later this year.

Hence, there is unlikely to be a massive political purge in the party and the government following Bo's fall. Officials who are not implicated in Bo's alleged criminal offences - amid rumors

 

surrounding the murder of British citizen Neil Heywood and corruption - are unlikely to be affected.

Bo was dismissed as Chongqing party secretary on March 15 - one day after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao publicly held the Chongqing party committee and the government accountable for the incident of former Chongqing police chief and Bo's right-hand man Wang Lijun's "unauthorized entry" into the US Consulate General in Chengdu on February 6.

Apparently acting on information provided by Wang during an investigation, the CCP power center announced on April 10 the suspension of Bo's memberships in the CCP politburo and central committee for "serious violations of discipline", pending further investigation. It was also announced that Bo's wife Gu Kailai and an orderly at their home were suspects in the murder of Heywood in Chongqing in November 2011.

To be fair, reinvestigation into a homicide case half a year earlier does take time, particularly in the case of Heywood, whose remains were reportedly immediately cremated. Hence it is not unusual that Chinese authorities since then have kept mute on the case.

This, however, leaves room for the overseas media to speculate (China's state-run media are strictly banned from carrying any unauthorized reports). Some said Gu was Heywood's one-time lover. Some said Heywood had a grudge with Gu over some business disputes. Some said it was Bo who personally ordered the murder of Heywood because the latter held information that could jeopardize Bo's political career.

The CCP can ignore such fiction-like reports, but it has to take seriously rumors and unconfirmed reports suggesting Bo's removal is a result of a political struggle in the party and that officials sympathizing or supporting him would be purged. It is evident that after the short-lived spread of rumors on the Internet about a military coup in Beijing in mid-March, Chinese police have closed down over a dozen websites and detained people suspected of starting the rumors.

But this has failed to scare off overseas media who continue to speculate about a political struggle inside the CCP triggered by Bo's purge.

Although Zhou Yongkang, one of the nine members of the politburo standing committee at the center of the military-coup rumor, has made frequent public appearances ever since, some recent reports in the Hong Kong media still insist that he is a political supporter of Bo and will be disgraced.

There have also been reports that several dozen officials in Chongqing and in Dalian, where Bo used to work as mayor, have been arrested for investigation. Other reports said some People's Liberation Army (PLA) generals close to Bo have "disappeared" or "being under investigation". There were even reports that the CCP may have to postpone its 18th congress in October to deal with the political shock caused by Bo's dismissal.

At home, the new leftists, who oppose capitalist-style reform and opening up and advocate a return to some sort of socialism, have also tried to characterize Bo's dismissal as a political purge. For instance, Kong Qingdong, a Peking University professor and a die-hard new leftist, immediately renounced the dismissal as a "counter-revolutionary coup". Another new leftist Sima Nan called it the "darkest day" in contemporary China. After Beijing announced an investigation into Bo, the new leftists demanded a "public trial" to let the public make a judgment.

For the CCP, political and social stability is crucial for smooth power transition at the 18th Party Congress later this year (it is unlikely it would be put off - that would only cause greater political uncertainty). It cannot sit idle and allow talk about a political struggle to run wild.

Hence, last week the state-run Xinhua News Agency dispatched three editorials in three consecutive days to dismiss Bo's purge as being one of "political struggle". The editorials were all in English, apparently targeting at overseas readers.

The editorial on April 16 said:
The Bo Xilai investigation is a case that the Communist Party of China (CPC) has handled according to Party regulation and discipline, reflecting the Party's resolution to strictly govern itself. It does not indicate a political struggle within the Party.

Prior to Bo, there were also members of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau who were investigated and punished for discipline violations, including Chen Xitong, former secretary of the Beijing Municipal Committee of CPC and Chen Liangyu, former secretary of the Shanghai Municipal Committee of CPC.

The way in which these cases were handled safeguarded the dignity of Party discipline and law, won resolute support from the people and were conducive to China's healthy development.
By likening Bo's purge to the two Chens', it implies there is unlikely a political purge of other officials not implicated in the "criminal case". Both Chens were dealt with as individual "corruption cases" with no political purges.

The editorial on the next day said:
Based on the facts made public so far, the Wang Lijun incident is a serious political event that has created an adverse influence both at home and abroad, the death of Neil Heywood is a serious criminal case involving the kin and aides of a Party and state leader, and Bo has seriously violated Party discipline.

Observers have stated that the handling of related events has demonstrated the Party's willingness to strictly enforce Party discipline and law, as well as improve supervision of leading officials.

No one should leave it to chance that they can take advantage of power to seek personal gain without being punished. In this sense, the investigation into Bo's disciplinary violations can be interpreted as a move to better supervise the use of power.
The last editorial, on April 18, has a straightforward title: "Criminal Case Shall Not Be Interpreted As Political Struggle". It said:
Chinese central authorities and relevant departments have paid great attention to the death of British national Neil Heywood, and police have set up a team to reinvestigate the case according to law and seek truth from facts.

Reinvestigation results show that the existing evidence indicates that Heywood died of homicide, of which Bo Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun (the orderly at Bo's home) are highly suspected.

Heywood's case is a criminal case and is being handled according to law, as it would be in any other country under the rule of law.

The homicide was alleged by former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun who entered, without authorization, the US. general consulate in Chengdu on Feb 6.

After the death of Heywood and the Wang Lijun incident, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) decided to investigate Bo Xilai for serious discipline violations.

The Wang Lijun incident, the death of Heywood and Bo's discipline violations have had an extremely negative impact. The timely and proper decision by the CPC Central Committee to investigate the case safeguards the sanctity of law and reflects the firm resolution of the CPC Central Committee to adhere to the rule of law.

The criminal case shall not be interpreted as a political struggle. China's development will not be hindered by these separate incidents, and the overall state of the country will not be affected by human influence.
It will be better for those who are viewing the situation with a certain amount of bias to wait it out, as the truth of the matter will come out after the investigation is completed.
Clearly, Xinhua is authorized to dispatch these editorials to explain the CCP's position on dealing with Bo's case. They deliver a strong message that the party does not want to escalate Bo's dismissal into a political purge of officials who used to support Bo or work closely with him. A good example is Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan, who has worked closely with Bo in past four years to create the "Chongqing Model" and whose capability Bo appreciated very much.

As such, Huang would have been a major target had there been a political purge. But Huang still remains in office after Bo's removal. Some senior officials and PLA generals rumored to be in trouble have also made their public appearances recently. The People's Daily, the CCP's flagship newspaper, played down Bo's role in Chongqing's development, saying "achievements in Chongqing have been made collectively". Its sister publication Global Times further said on April 19 that "any individual's influence [in Chongqing[ should not be over-estimated".

It may be also naive to think Bo's former political "allies" would continue to support him after his removal unless they want to commit political suicide. After all in politics, there is no such thing as genuine "friendship" - only interests are permanent.

But "no power struggle" does not mean there is no political maneuvering. Bo had been tipped to be promoted into the Politburo Standing Committee at the 18th party congress. His fall now leaves a vacancy for other possible candidates to compete. The jockeying is going on in calm waters. It is also certain that while there is no political purge, that political future of those who are deemed to be too close to Bo won't be so bright.

Notes
1. China's development not to be hindered by individual incidents, Xinhua, Apr 16, 2012.
2. Bo investigation warns officials of power abuse, Xinhua, Apr 17, 2012.
3. Criminal case shall not be interpreted as political struggle, Xinhua, Apr 18, 2012.

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