While political infighting obviously might lie behind the Chinese government’s hesitancy and ineptness in managing the scandal, the CCP undermined its public credibility further by initially trying to cover up the seriousness of the affair.
After Wang Lijun (王立軍), Bo’s former police chief, very publicly sought asylum at the US consulate in Chengdu, the CCP thought that it could keep the Bo skeleton in the closet. Using language that would make George Orwell blush, officials declared that Wang was “suffering from exhaustion due to overwork” and was receiving “vacation-style treatment” — in fact, he was being interrogated by the secret police.
What made the CCP’s top brass lose face — and sleep — was the failure of China’s famed “Great Firewall” during the Bo saga.
Attempts to censor the Internet and mobile text services failed miserably. Chinese citizens, for the first time in history, were able to follow — and openly voice their opinions about — an unfolding power struggle at the very top of the CCP almost in real time.
Fortunately for the CCP, public outrage over the lawlessness and corruption of leaders such as Bo has been expressed in cyberspace, not on the streets — but who knows what will happen when the next political crisis erupts?
China’s leaders, we can be sure, are asking themselves precisely that question, which helps to explain why a regime that has apparently done so well for so long is so afraid of its own people.
It is difficult to say whether a paranoid with real enemies is easier to deal with than one without any. However, for China’s government, which rules the world’s largest country, paranoia itself has become the problem. Overcoming it requires not only a change of mindset, but a total transformation of the political system.
Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California.
Copyright: Project Syndicate