Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) likely successor, is now on a visit to the US. Widely regarded as the next Chinese president and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), this visit will be scrutinized by the US, Taiwan and the international community.
US visits by Chinese leaders or leaders-in-waiting are major events. When former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) visited the US in 1997, China was on the cusp of its rise, just starting to open up. By the time Hu visited in 2002, in the capacity of vice president and prospective successor to the presidency, China was already a regional power. Things have moved apace and with this latest visit, China is already an international power, threatening to compete in the same league with the US in terms of military presence, economics and foreign relations.
However, on the eve of Xi’s visit, a piece of news broke, the aftershocks of which are being felt both in China and abroad. The news was that Wang Lijun (王立軍), Chongqing’s vice mayor and right-hand man of Chongqing CCP Secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來), presented himself at the US consulate in Chengdu, apparently seeking political asylum.
Bo is part of the political elite in China, one of the second generation of party big beasts known as the “princelings” (太子黨). He is known in Chongqing for cleaning up the city, promoting the communist cause — reviving the singing of Mao Zedong (毛澤東)-era songs — and fighting corruption. Wang has been a major figure in the latter effort, serving as chief of police. In a single day he oversaw the sacking on the spot of 2,000 to 3,000 police officers. The former police chief, Wen Qiang (文強), was found guilty of a litany of corruption offenses and promptly executed. This operation made Bo a hero in Chongqing. It also secured him a place on the list for candidates to join the CCP Standing Committee later this year at the party’s 18th National Congress.
Wang presented himself at the US consulate as he did not want to go the same way as Wen. He remained there for a day, while Washington and Beijing discussed how best to contain the fallout in the interests of both countries, before being taken to Beijing for what was euphemistically called “a rest.”
Speculation about the matter is rife online. Some have suggested this was the result of a struggle between Bo and Guangdong CCP Secretary Wang Yang (汪洋) for a place on the Standing Committee. Others believe Hu is behind all this, to rein in Bo’s blatant ambition and to clear away any obstacles to the orderly succession of power.
The transfer of power in China proceeds according to a set of inscrutable principles and when a political matter gets in the way it is of major consequence. It happened with Mao and the Lin Biao (林彪) incident of Sept 13, 1976; it happened with Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) in the 1986 Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦) incident; in 1989, when Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽) was removed from office for opposing the use of force against students in Tiananmen Square; when Chen Xitong (陳希同) was removed from office during Jiang’s time; and in the dismissal of Chen Liangyu (陳良宇) under Hu.
Judging by the ferocity of power struggles in Beijing, China is evidently still a totalitarian dictatorship — a long, long way from being a civilized country that respects human rights, democracy and the rule of law.