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Monday, April 23, 2012

The Bo Xilai Crises -- An Interview with Cheng Li

Cheng Li is an expert on China with the Brooking's Institute, so the interview gives some insight on the issue that seems to have been missing in the main-stream media. For instance, some background on Bo Xilai:
Bo Xilai’s story is certainly linked to China’s present-day factional politics, which I characterize as “one party, two coalitions.” One coalition is led by former president Jiang Zemin’s protégés. While the core of this coalition used to be the so-called Shanghai Gang, “princelings” (leaders who come from high-ranking family backgrounds) have become more central since the fall of Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu on corruption charges in 2006. Bo Xilai is a princeling, as his father Bo Yibo was a revolutionary veteran who served as vice premier. The other coalition primarily consists of former officials from the Chinese Communist Youth League and is led by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. These two coalitions fight with each other over power, influence, and policy initiatives. Bo Xilai’s career advancement can certainly be attributed to his princeling background and his patron-client ties with Jiang Zemin.

Bo’s downfall is also related to his own egotistical personality and notorious ambition. While his ambitions were most recently focused on achieving a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee, it would have not stopped there. In the months preceding the crisis, members of Bo’s staff spread the rumor that he could become China’s next premier. In addition, Su Wei, a scholar close to Bo at the Chongqing Party School, compared Bo Xilai and Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan to former leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in comments circulated in both the Chongqing and national media.

The Bo episode is also related to ideological conflict, as he was associated with China’s “new left” thinking—especially through his Mao-style campaigns, such as the “smash the black” anti–organized crime campaign—and advocated an ultra-egalitarian and ultra-nationalist development model for China, known as the “Chongqing model.”

But this episode is really more than the sum of these factors. Most importantly, it involves Wang Lijun’s attempted defection to the United States and the charges against Bo’s wife related to the murder or assassination of British citizen Neil Heywood. The Chinese public has been shocked by both incidents, since this is a very unusual set of events in CCP history. How is it possible that national hero Wang Lijun and one of China’s top leaders are capable of such actions? When these kinds of charges are involved, all Chinese leaders—regardless of which faction they belong to—will not support Bo Xilai any longer, because the current crisis poses a challenge to the legitimacy of the CCP itself. The stakes are very high, and the challenge facing the CCP leadership is intimidating.
Li dismisses theories that the scandal was engineered by other Chinese leaders,Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. He also believes that the Chinese leadership is more interested in presenting a united political front publicly, rather than pursuing a witch-hunt against other senior officials.

The party leadership will be extremely cautious and not expand the scope of the Bo Xilai case to other leaders. Purges will be relatively limited. The fact that certain leaders closely affiliated with Bo, such as Huang Qifan, are still free implies that the top leadership does not intend to punish too many people. The fact that the country is on the eve of the 18th Party Congress, with so many destabilizing factors, will also lead the leadership to limit the scope of targeted officials.

Therefore, though the Bo case is a victory for Hu and Wen, this victory will not necessarily translate into more seats for their coalition on the Politburo Standing Committee. To a certain extent, this explains why Guangdong’s liberal party chief Wang Yang has been reluctant to claim victory since there still could be a backlash against him. The makeup of the future Politburo Standing Committee will largely be determined through compromises between the two coalitions. The balance of power within this system will not be easily changed. If the princeling faction collapsed, this would constitute an unimaginable revolution with implications for Chinese politics and social instability ten times greater than the Bo scandal. Thus, at the moment, there is a tremendous incentive for the party’s top leadership to preserve the current structure of “one party, two coalitions,” and show unity and solidarity. Evidence of the Chinese leadership’s unity on this matter can be found in the man who replaced Bo as party chief of Chongqing, Zhang Dejiang, a protégé of Jiang Zemin and part of the same princeling coalition as Bo. This appointment means that a deal has been made and the top leadership of the party is united.
Read the whole thing. (H/t Instapundit).

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