April 15, 2012 in Asia
by Hugo Polanco
Scandals, coups, and murders! For the past couple of months China’s attempt to peacefully transition power to a new set of leaders has met with trouble. Bo Xilai the aspiring leader of the Southwestern metropolis of Chongqing has in rapid succession been demoted from being leader of Chongqing, removed from the politburo and now is facing the possibility of criminal charges. Beyond this being a simple scandal this is a huge blow to the Chinese Communist Party and came at the worst possible time during the sensitive transition.
The ramifications for the Communist Party could turn out to be quite severe. For one it is a very public split in an organization traditionally shrouded in secrecy. This scandal also will change the trajectory of the party somewhat. Until this even happened Bo Xilai and his clique seemed poised to greatly enhance their power. Bo and his faction’s style of leadership was known as the Chongqing model of development. This style emphasized redistribution of wealth, nostalgia for Maoism, and a brutal approach to curbing organized crime. Bo fed upon the population’s dissatisfaction with the socioeconomic status quo, primarily upon their displeasure with rampant rates of inequality that characterize modern day China. As a result he was widely popular in his own city, and as a first had initiated a limited form of popular campaigning to be selected for the Standing Committee of the Politburo placing him among the body of 9 men that are directly responsible for governing China. Many China analysts speculated how long the established party hierarchy would tolerate him given their predilection to support quiet neutral leaders, best epitomized by current president Hu Jintao, whose cold passionless demeanor would make him a perfect fill in for any Keanu Reeves role in the past 10 years.
However a frantic attempt in February by his security chief Wang lijun to defect to the United States quickly unraveled all his plans. What has followed as been shocking revelation after revelation. It turns out that Wang Lijun, frightened for his life after possibly uncovering a politically motivated murder had attempted to trade this information in exchange for American protection. Wang’s fears are understandable given the murder in question was that of a British businessman named Neil Heywood and the primary suspect is none other than Bo Xilai’s wife, Gu Kailai. As this scandal progressed Bo was quickly stripped of his office as leader of Chongqing and as a member of the Politburo. Gu Kailai for her own part has unveiled an even larger conspiracy. The wife of Bo Xilai claims that Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Standing Committee, was involved in an attempt to remove the heir apparent, Xi Jinping and replace him with Bo Xilai. It is unknown whether her allegations are true or whether she is feeding the party information in an attempt to avoid execution. What is known is that whether or not there was a larger conspiracy, Bo and his faction have been fatally weakened and his Chongqing model discredited. This may allow the Premier Wen Jiabao’s liberal faction to play their hand. This group has long been the counter to Bo and as foreign policy magazine explains there may be a personal tinge to Bo’s treatment at the hands of Premier Wen. Wen’s faction is best known for the Guangdong model of development which includes overtures to political liberalization. The latest event to showcase their thinking was their handling of the Wukan crisis, where the Guangdong government chose to negotiate with the restive village instead of sending in tanks Tiananmen style.
This time this even may be recorded as the turning point, where China was forced to start opening its political system. Political liberalization still has a long way to go and still faces many determined opponents but the hands of the liberal faction have surely been freed from dealing with fierce rivals of Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang.This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.