Friday, April 20, 2012

Positives and Negatives of Bo Xilai Scandal

Extremist Maoist Bo Xilai would have caused much damage and negated China's achievements if he had made it to the top. While factional infighting is more stable and mature coalition, divisions must be healed and decadence eradicated by seizing this opportunity to unify and reform the flawed system. 

The chances of a comeback for Bo have been dimmed to nothingness.  Treason, crime and concentration of power in one person is incompatible with today's collective leadership.  That Deng Xiaoping was rehabilitated after several power struggles and Cultural Revolution because of his sincerity and passion for uplifting China. Bo could only rise to the post as mafia busting owing to his mafia and unlawful methods. He does not possess the essential traits for national leadership. Let this be a lesson to aspiring Chinese leaders who want the short cut and devious ways to power. 

A must-read for every one who is interested in China:

Quote : Excerpts of "Bo Xilai Crisis : A Curse of Blessing?"

Cheng Li, an expert on Chinese elite politics and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution :

the dismissal of Bo Xilai is a very positive event in China’s political development. While it has already constituted the most serious political crisis since the 1989 Tiananmen incident (and perhaps since the 1971 Lin Biao incident), the Hu Jintao–Wen Jiabao administration may have successfully avoided an even bigger crisis. In stark contrast with the 1989 Tiananmen incident, China’s economy and society have hardly been disrupted, at least up until now. This reflects the maturity of Chinese society and the strength of the country as a whole. To a great extent, this crisis has been a good thing for China. It not only reveals major flaws in the Chinese political system, but may also help the Chinese leadership, intellectual communities, and the general public reach a new consensus, thus contributing to bold and genuine political reforms. However, if the leadership fails to seize this great opportunity, the CCP will be in greater jeopardy in the years to come.

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.
factional politics: the tensions between the princelings coalition and the Youth League coalition.
Specifically, the other princeling leaders wanted to use Bo to their advantage. Within elite circles, Bo was nicknamed “the cannon” because he was always ready to attack his political rivals, including Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, and Bo’s liberal counterpart—Guangdong party chief Wang Yang. Thus, he was considered a much-needed weapon by the other princelings, though they did not necessarily like or trust him. On the other hand, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao saw Bo as a liability for their opposition because they believed Bo’s campaigns were doomed to fail and that he ultimately would undermine the strength of the princelings due to his divisive tactics. In addition, his Cultural Revolution–style initiatives were seen by Hu and Wen as remnants of the past with no hope of succeeding. Therefore, they may have been even less concerned about Bo than some of the other heavyweights in the princeling camp.
In fact, Bo had many enemies, including at least four major groups: (1) liberal intellectuals, who often regarded him not only as a Maoist, but also as a Nazi-like leader who often singled out particular social groups as targets; (2) lawyers and legal professionals alarmed at his roughshod treatment of Chinese legal practices in Chongqing and Dalian; (3) the majority of political and military elites, who feared Bo did not play according to the rules and would take China down the wrong path; and (4) entrepreneurs in China and abroad alarmed at Bo’s anti-market tendencies, evident in his rough handling of Wal-Mart stores in Chongqing.
At the 2007 Party Congress, Bo had aggressively sought two positions, membership in the Politburo and a vice-premiership. In my view, the fact that he got the former but not the latter was the result of a compromise between the two camps. Assigning him to an interior city like Chongqing was an effort on the part of Hu and Wen to reduce Bo’s influence and power. While there were some unconfirmed reports during his first few months on the job that he was deeply dissatisfied with his new assignment, in the end he did a remarkable job of putting Chongqing on China’s political map and, for a time, effectively turned it into his own personal kingdom. Regardless, prior to this most recent scandal, there had been long-standing concerns among the Chinese political establishment that Bo would go too far and undermine the unity of the central leadership of the CCP. Even before the latest scandal, some in Beijing felt that Bo would not receive a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee because he was so divisive and could cause trouble for the CCP as a whole. Certainly, with Wang Lijun’s actions, Bo Xilai’s career was over immediately.
Although the princelings did support Bo and used him when convenient, this does not mean that they gave him a blank check to do as he pleased. Just as there is political infighting within the political parties in the United States, the relationship among members of a Chinese coalition is both cooperative and competitive.
Much has been made of Xi’s visit to Chongqing in December 2011, interpreted by some as an endorsement of Bo. Five Politburo Standing Committee members visited Chongqing, and Bo interpreted this as an endorsement of his leadership and his Chongqing model.  

It is unclear whether Bo would have fallen if Wang Lijun had not gone to the U.S. consulate. I believe it would have been much more difficult to purge Bo without Wang’s actions due to strong factional tensions within the leadership, as Bo not only represented himself but also a social movement. Even today, some people are suspicious of whether this entire incident is true and whether the death of Heywood has anything to do with Bo and Gu. Some even accuse the United States of involvement in a conspiracy. However, the evidence provided by Wang Lijun made the case against Bo much easier and clear-cut. Thus, without Wang Lijun’s dramatic visit to the consulate, removing Bo would have been much more difficult for his opponents to achieve, though given Bo’s actions and the ongoing investigation of him, he may have fallen eventually even without this crisis.

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. To a certain extent, this is similar to what happened in 2006 with the fall of Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu. All those who have followed Chen as Shanghai party boss, including Xi Jinping, have been protégés of Jiang Zemin, just as Chen was.
Consequently, it is highly likely that Bo’s potential seat on the Politburo Standing Committee will be taken by someone from the princeling coalition. Zhang Dejiang would likely have attained a seat on the committee regardless of Bo’s fall, though he will now probably receive an even more important position. Zhang Gaoli, the party chief of Tianjin, and Shanghai party chief Yu Zhengsheng, both protégés of Jiang Zemin, are now likely to go further with Bo gone. Though we do not know for sure which specific officials will receive which posts, I do think it is highly likely that the factional balance of power on the Politburo Standing Committee will remain unchanged with five seats for one coalition and four for the other.

The Cultural Revolution and the 1989 Tiananmen incident are two of the great disasters in the history of the CCP, but in the aftermath of these events you see opening and reform after the Cultural Revolution and the acceleration of China’s market transition and integration with the outside world after Tiananmen, respectively. Positive political developments came out of these terrible events. There is hope that something similar may yet happen following the Bo crisis. Lessons will be learned, a consensus will be reached, and bold decisions will be pursued. Wen Jiabao, in recent comments at the National People’s Congress, said very clearly that the party-state leadership system needs to be changed and that the rule of law should be emphasized in the handling of Wang Lijun’s case in order for the CCP to endure the test of history.
Learning from this crisis is not a choice for the CCP as much as it is a necessity. If nothing changes, the party will continue to lose its credibility. I believe the characterization of the Chinese political system as “resilient authoritarianism” is incorrect. While the prevailing view had been that this year’s leadership procession would go smoothly, two years ago I argued that the upcoming succession would be highly problematic and feature some sort of major crisis. Now the general sentiment is that China is in a terrible situation due to a vicious power struggle, but I am more optimistic. China has removed a major danger and avoided the worst scenario, which would have been taking the country down a Maoist, ultranationalist path. Of course, Bo’s chances of accomplishing this were always slim, but now they are close to zero. This is solid progress, and a reason to be more optimistic about China’s future.

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