Tue, Apr 03, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Seeing past China’s factional games

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

There are many theories as to why Bo Xilai (薄熙來) was removed from his post as Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chongqing committee secretary in southwest China.

The first is that this kind of thing is quite normal in China whenever a new team of top leaders is preparing to take the helm of the CCP. Under such circumstances, the party often goes through factional struggles, while the central leadership consolidates its control by clamping down on provincial leaders that have gotten out of line.

In this respect, the Bo incident can be compared to the way former Beijing mayor and Politburo member Chen Xitong (陳希同) and former Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu (陳良宇), also a Politburo member, were dealt with by former president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) prior to the party’s 15th and 17th national congresses respectively.

However, Bo is famous for two particular acts during his tenure as Chongqing party boss — encouraging the singing of “red” traditional communist songs and tackling organized crime. These have made him a hero for Maoist academics and a lot of ordinary people across China, and the “quotations of Bo Xilai” have spread far and wide. In other words, the Bo incident is not just a matter of sorting out a troublesome city leader, as was the case with Chen Xitong and Chen Liangyu.

The second theory is that the Bo incident is what Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) was referring to when he made remarks about preventing a recurrence of the Cultural Revolution shortly before Bo’s dismissal, or that it is a struggle between the so-called populists and leftists on the one hand and the rich and powerful capitalists who depend on Western-directed globalization on the other.

However, it should be noted that Chongqing under Bo’s leadership was the No. 1 city in China for attracting foreign investment and that the proportion of the city’s total production generated by privately owned businesses soared from 25 percent to 60 percent during the same period. Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan (黃奇帆) is on record as saying that he was following the model set by former US president Ronald Reagan and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. In other words, Chongqing’s leaders during Bo’s tenure have clearly not been leftist opponents of neoliberalism.

The third viewpoint is that the Bo incident marks a struggle between the CCP’s Communist Youth League (CYL) faction and the Jiang faction, along with the so-called “princelings” — the sons and daughters of senior leaders. However, it should not be forgotten that Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), who is expected to take over as president later this year, is also a “princeling.”

Although it was Jiang’s support that allowed Xi to overtake Li Keqiang (李克強), who was originally Hu and Wen’s preferred choice in the contest for the top party post, recent events indicate that Xi is now aligned with Hu and Wen.

The fourth explanation is that, with two people vying for a place on the Politburo Standing Committee, Bo lost out and CCP Guangdong Provincial Committee Secretary Wang Yang (汪洋) got the job. According to this theory, Wang’s “Guangdong model” has trumped Bo’s “Chongqing model,” ensuring that Wen’s style of democratic reform will be the mainstream from now on.

It is true that Wen strongly supported Wang’s resolution to the unrest in Guangdong’s Wukan (烏坎) village through the direct election of new village officials. However, most of the CCP’s top leaders probably find Wang’s suggestion that reform must start with the ruling party and the people’s government no less worrying than Bo’s enthusiasm for “red” songs and his clampdown on crime and corruption.

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