It just keeps getting worse for fallen Chinese political star Bo Xilai. Already stripped of his place on the Politburo, and tainted by allegations that his wife was involved in the murder of a British businessman, the former Communist Party Chief of Chongqing is now accused of tapping the phone calls of China’s top leaders.
The New York Times reports that Chinese President Hu Jintao was among those who fell victim to a program that spread across Chongqing.
“According to senior party members, including editors, academics and people with ties to the military, Mr. Bo’s eavesdropping operations began several years ago as part of a state-financed surveillance buildup, ostensibly for the purposes of fighting crime and maintaining local political stability,” the paper reported.
The architect of the program, according to New York Times sources, was Bo’s police chief, Wang Lijun, “a nationally decorated crime fighter who had worked under Mr. Bo in the northeast province of Liaoning. Together they installed ‘a comprehensive package bugging system covering telecommunications to the Internet,’ according to the government media official.”
At this point, it feels a little like piling on, but the paper claims to be drawing on numerous sources, so there’s no reason right now to doubt the veracity of the latest allegations. Either way, China’s leadership will undoubtedly be keen to capitalize on all this and ensure that Bo has no way of making a comeback.
As David Cohen noted in China Power last month, ditching Bo was likely a consensus move, one that everyone in the leadership had good reason to support it. After all, Bo had apparently had some success in forming an independent base of support in Chongqing and Dalian, and if Bo had kept this intact into the Xi Jinping administration, he could, as Cohen says “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,” Cohen added.
On a related note, the British government has also been pushed onto the defensive, denying rumors that Neil Heywood, the death of whom Bo’s wife is accused of being behind, was actually a British spy.
Heywood died in Chongqing in November, but it wasn’t until earlier this month that Chinese authorities said Gu Kailai was being arrested on suspicion of murder. According to the official Xinhua News Agency, Gu and her son, Bo Guagua, had a “conflict over economic interests” with Heywood.
I was sent a copy of the letter British Foreign Secretary William Hague sent to the chair of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee in which he denied that Heywood was on the government payroll.
“The committee will recognize that it is long established government policy neither to confirm nor deny speculation of this sort. However, given the intense interest in this case, it is, exceptionally, appropriate for me to confirm that Mr. Heywood was not an employee of the British government in any capacity.”
This is actually interesting in itself. Presumably a government is only really going to come under strong pressure to publicly confirm or deny such relationships when there is intense interest in a case. Does this mean that from now on we can assume that if the government doesn’t deny such a relationship in future high-profile cases, that one does indeed exist? At the least, I’m not sure the government has set a helpful precedent for itself.