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Politics and power in China: the endgame

By Brian Hennessy - posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Until last week, Bo Xilai was the Communist Party Secretary of the municipality of Chongqing. This huge metropolis is the central government's hub for growth in southwest China. The Party Secretary outranks the mayor, Huang Qifan, and is the main instrument of central government control.

Bo has been in the news a lot lately. He is one of China's princelings and used to be the Minister for Commerce in the central government before he fell out with Hu Jintau (wrong faction) and was demoted and banished to Chongqing.

He was responsible for the crackdown on corruption in this city which netted the police chief, Wen Qiang (executed), members of the local mafia (six executed and hundreds jailed), and an unknown number of local government officers (jailed if they had no powerful patron, or quietly transferred if they did: e.g., the previous mayor). Many businessmen were also jailed and their wealth expropriated.


Bo was assisted in this undertaking by Police Chief Wang Lijun, whom he had worked with before in Liaoning Province. He had asked Wang to come to Chongqing to take charge of the investigations into corruption in this city. Both men belong to ex-president Zhang Zemin's old-guard, left-leaning faction and have been a team for years.

Bo has had his sights set on a comeback to power: namely, promotion to the Standing Committee, the inner sanctum or 'cabinet' of the Politburo when there is a leadership change later this year.

He was responsible for the so-called 'Chongqing model', which promotes a return to old leftist 'red' ideals, and which has received a considerable amount of publicity if not approval. This phony exercise has been a top-down imposition on the population rather than a grass-roots movement.

Cynics have claimed that both the corruption cleanup and the revolutionary rhetoric were Bo Xilai's vehicles for self-promotion. Recent events have proven them right. Critics also accuse him of deliberately targeting many of his predecessor's staff in the clean-up, in an effort to consolidate his power and rid himself of any factional enemies in Chongqing.

Bo's investigation has also revealed how local corruption is linked to Beijing. He now has dirt on members of the leadership group. He is a man to be feared.

Bo's main rival for a seat in the Standing Committee is his predecessor, the Guangdong leader, Wang Yang. This man is a reformer rather than a reactionary, and thinks that hard-line leftist policies are not suited for a maturing Chinese society today. He belongs to Hu Jintau's faction. Bo has many enemies in the leadership group.


This is the context for the bizarre events involving the Chongqing Police Chief Wang Lijun and his recent attempt to seek political asylum in the US Consulate in Chengdu in neighbouring Sichuan province.

What is going on here?

At face value, it appears that Wang Lijun is simply a victim of a larger power-play which was aimed at damaging Bo Xilai's run for promotion to the Standing Committee by discrediting his police chief colleague. This is how things are done here. You weaken your opponent by attacking his colleagues, staff and supporters.

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Information for this article has been gleaned from local Chongqing people, and overseas Chinese China-watchers. A media ban on this topic remains in place in China.

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About the Author

Brian is an Australian author, educator, and psychologist who lived in China for thirteen years. These days he divides his time between both countries.

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