What Happened to Bo Xilai?
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What Happened to Bo Xilai?

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The scandal-plagued end of Bo Xilai’s career started long before Wang Lijun’s dramatic flight to the American Consulate in Chengdu last month. The incident may have triggered the resolution of a simmering conflict, or it may have been the first move of a checkmate in two, but it’s a safe bet that there were serious political reasons behind the highest-reaching political scandal since the Chen Liangyu case at the beginning of President Hu Jintao’s term. 

Bo’s unorthodox approach to politics has made him an increasingly controversial figure within the Communist Party. The very public campaigns and policy freelancing that have made him a center of attention in the past year have struck Western analysts as a threat to the consensus-driven leadership of the modern Chinese Party – and it now seems that China’s top leaders agree. The dismissal represents a final verdict on Bo’s populist style – and perhaps also on his leftist policy agenda.

A move on the level of dismissing a member of the Politburo couldn’t have been made lightly, or quickly – in the closest analogue we have for this case, the dismissal of Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu over corruption charges in 2006, Hu spent months negotiating Chen’s removal with the Politburo Standing Committee, after years spent laying the ground and accumulating evidence for the charges, as Richard McGregor documents in “The Party.”  That case also began with the arrest of Chen’s subordinates and worked up the chain.

Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao are likely organizers of Bo’s downfall as well – they have, unlike the majority of the Standing Committee, avoided visiting Chongqing during Bo’s tenure, echoing Hu’s pointed avoidance of Shanghai in the years before the Chen Liangyu incident, and Bo’s removal from the contest for elevation to the Standing Committee seems to clear the way for an important Hu ally, Guangdong party chief Wang Yang.  Wen’s remarkably direct criticism of Bo Tuesday further suggested a strong personal animus.

But ditching Bo was clearly a consensus move, and everyone had good reason to support it. Peter Martin reported in this space in January on Bo’s success in forming an independent base of support in Chongqing and Dalian – if Bo had kept this intact into the Xi administration, he could easily have become a problematic rival. If he had succeeded in forcing his way onto the Standing Committee, he would have created an alternative route to power, permanently undermining the Party’s control of the government through its absolute power to make appointments.

The timing of Bo’s downfall suggests that China’s top leaders took these threats seriously – with the leadership transition in October and ongoing provincial appointments, Bo could have been quietly eased out if it hadn’t been necessary to make an example. The choice to fire Bo during the National People’s Congress catches him in Beijing and ensures that he won’t travel back to Chongqing – suggesting that Chinese leaders may have feared another Wang Lijun-style getaway.

The end of Bo Xilai’s run should also spell the end of the “Chongqing model” of heavy state investment coupled with ersatz Maoist political slogans.  Deputy Premier Zhang Dejiang, a high-ranking but inconspicuous Politburo member with a speciality in cleaning up political messes – he was sent to Fujian last summer to handle damage control after the high-speed rail crash – has been appointed to Bo’s recent job in order to unwind his policies.

With Bo gone, attention will be focusing in coming months on Wang Yang, a dynamic and apparently reform-minded member of the Communist Youth League faction who was until recently seen as Bo’s chief rival for promotion.  With Bo out of the running, Wang is a very likely a candidate for promotion.  I'll be back next week with a quick introduction to Wang.

Comments
15
Sing
March 21, 2012 at 08:28

What did Wang have in his possession so important to grant him asylum in the US? Corruptions of Bo? That does not rise to the level of importance to rattle the shaky relations with China. May the US State Dept looked at it and said no. The “no” has to came from Washington DC. Maybe the US consulate already did a humane thing for Wang not handing him to Bo.

Bernard Christian
March 20, 2012 at 10:56

The comments section of articles in The Diplomat are nearly always so disappointing. It would be better if the moderator cut the obvious Chinese government propagandists and the redneck Americans.

a_canadian_observer
March 20, 2012 at 01:37

@Fu Man-chu:
“What happened to Bo Xilai? Simple. He was knifed in the back by his “Brutus” – Wang Lijun – a person he trusted. Bo did not realise the extent of Wang’s political ambitions and ego and his lack of principles and ethics to achieve what he desires.”
– How do you know all the behind the scene events, to make your judgement?

“In the event, the traitor and assassin Wang, stabbed both Bo and his country in the back by going to China’s venal enemy – the U.S. – to spill the beans and give China and its top leadership a bad and negative image in the eyes of the Chinese people and to the world.ed by”
– Afraid of loosing face? Nothing is new here.

“The worst thing anyone can experience in this life, is to be betrayed by someone you trusted most; Someone you consider family .. a wife, a son, a daughter, a parent.”
– True, is this the case? What if he speaks the truth?

“The question arising is – Was Wang Lijun bought over by the CIA to give China a blackeye? Who else in China has been bought over by the CIA and are scandals waiting to happened? Who else are traitors and spies?”
– Are you playing the victim card? or the classic “blame the West/US” for your own problems again?

peter
March 20, 2012 at 00:01

This caricature of Chinese was inventer by Westerners to stereotype Chinese men with slant slitty eyes, pigtails, cunning, sinister, evil and untrustworthy. In has genesis in comics in the 1920s.

It is totally outdated portrayal of Chinese under the Qing dynasty which was overthrown in 1911. Even the name ManChu comes from the minority tribe living in NorthEast China that control China for over 300 years.

Therefore, it is only logical to presume that since you chose to use this nom de plume that must be trying to perpetuate this stereotyping in the 21st century

nirvana
March 19, 2012 at 21:40

I do not have any sympathy for Bo Xilai’s way of doing politics (internal and external). However, whatever crimes he has committed, he deserves a public trial. If China cannot give hime a public (and fair) trial then he has the right to seek asylum, in the US or in any other country that respects human rights.

This being said, he may be tried in these countries too, for other crimes he may have committed while he had the power to imprison (arbitrarily) others. That is how, ideally, the world should go, when it comes to justice and human rights.

Fu Man-chu
March 19, 2012 at 21:14

I wonder if yu are not part of the campaign to smear and taint all Chinese sounding name so as to give a stigma to all Chinese? What does that say about Americans and American sounding names in the eyes of Chinese? Do I sound too sinister to you, or is it the other way round? And who invented this name?

peter
March 19, 2012 at 13:19

Because you have the wrong nom de plume.

You sound like from the comic books but definitely not Chinese at all.

peter
March 19, 2012 at 13:09

The list is endless, Dalai Lama, the new Prime Minister of the Exile Government of Tibet, Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia (successful one), all the TianAnmen dissidents after 1989, countless others in waiting. The two organizations that the US harbors these exiltes are either at academic institutions or at the World Bank.

It is certain that the US has a contigent number of candidates for every government on earth. And possibly a shadow government in most country too. Not only unfriendly/hostile ones, but even for friendly client states.

It is not only the US but a host of Western nations. Where do all the foreign dissendents behind all the color revolutions come from???

Leonard R.
March 19, 2012 at 11:21

@peterlam: “The Wang Lijun affair is paramount! Nobody knows what sensitive materials Wang had provided the US: economic, political, military, security, etc. The problem for Wang was that he sought asylum within China and the US had no way to get him out. It would probably be a different story if he did it in Hong Kong.”

Interesting point. The US could have granted him asylum, given him diplomatic credentials. But would the PRC have allowed him to leave even with credentials?

Would the Chengdu consulate have been blockaded with police cars for months on end?
It would have been really good TV – a hostage situation in reverse. Every day we’d have TV announcers telling us,

“The Chinese police are still outside. Wang Lijun is still inside. It’s very tense.”

I think the US should have granted him asylum & let the chips fall.
I suspect it chickened out.

Fu Man-chu
March 19, 2012 at 11:09

I notice my comments on Bo Xilai, carrying similar message has been censored twice aeven though it represent a new perspective and idea. What gives? Is the truth dangerous to this blog or one of its “editors”?

PeterDownUnder
March 19, 2012 at 01:57

Aung San Kuyi, Kim Dae Jung, who else?

Fu Man-chu
March 18, 2012 at 17:41

What happened to Bo Xilai? Simple. He was knifed in the back by his “Brutus” – Wang Lijun – a person he trusted. Bo did not realise the extent of Wang’s political ambitions and ego and his lack of principles and ethics to achieve what he desires.

In the event, the traitor and assassin Wang, stabbed both Bo and his country in the back by going to China’s venal enemy – the U.S. – to spill the beans and give China and its top leadership a bad and negative image in the eyes of the Chinese people and to the world.ed by

The worst thing anyone can experience in this life, is to be betrayed by someone you trusted most; Someone you consider family .. a wife, a son, a daughter, a parent.

The question arising is – Was Wang Lijun bought over by the CIA to give China a blackeye? Who else in China has been bought over by the CIA and are scandals waiting to happened? Who else are traitors and spies?

peter
March 18, 2012 at 09:27

CorrectionThe US would offer Bo asylum if he seeks it outside China.

Bo would most likely be warehoused by the US as Distinguished Lecturer at the Kennedy School of Politics at Harvard. It is in keeping with US practice of warehousing foreign political dissidents until such time as to send them back to their home country amid political turmoil. Manchurian Candidates?

peterlam
March 18, 2012 at 07:47

Aside for the many reasons within the workings of the political manueverings within the Party, the most obvious point that most commentators in this blog and others have been:

The Wang Lijun affair is paramount! Nobody knows what sensitive materials Wang had provided the US: economic, political, military, security, etc. The problem for Wang was that he sought asylum within China and the US had no way to get him out. It would probably be a different story if he did it in Hong Kong.

China cannot afford to have a leader like Bo Xilai at the top of its power hierarchy with possibility of future US personal leverage.

Bo himself is fashioning himself by catering to populist sentiments ala Kennedy’s style. The political dynasty of the Kennedys was an anomaly whereas the Kennedys were from rich family similar to the Rockefellers (who were mainly Republicas and true to their colors). The Kennedys were Democrats championing the issues for the poor while enjoying the privilege of the rich. Bo himself, a princeling, enjoyed the privilege of legacies in his political rise, with a son at elite Western universities driving a Ferrari, is championing the rights of the neglected. Absolute political demogoguery.

What is to say that Bo underpressure would not take the Wang route in the future. The US would definitely provide him asylum if he seeks it outside the US.
That would be the biggest diplomatic coup for the West. He would probably end up as guest Lecturer at Harvard, Yale or Princeton.

JohnX
March 18, 2012 at 02:36

You have to wonder if the reason why some topics about China or an issue that may place China in a negative light as its an action that China is dealing with has few to no comments is because it needs to be silenced.

I am wondering if it is due to a lack of negative issues that were said about it and that could not be argued against. Such as its such a bad issue that you can’t really support the issue even to fight against the ‘anti china clique’.

Or if its one of those topics that 50 centers, CCP supporters feel is a ‘dont go there’ topic. Shh, stay quiet and hopefully the issue will just slide into obscurity.

It could be an interesting subject study, looking at all the comments made and seeing which ones do not get much support or disagreement by pro chinese commentators. It would be a hypothetical issue I guess as you dont have a good idea if commentators are actually Pro China or simply Trolls.

Though, it may be interesting if you looked at it globably to see what topics are supported by Chinese fighting verbally against nay sayers and which ones get the dreaded silence. Just a thought for some budding scholar.

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