party melodrama as prelude to the 18th national people’s congress

Shenzhen friends have been speculating about the political-economic shifts we will see as a result of the 18th National People’s Congress. The latest scandal involves Politboro Standing Committee hopeful Bo Xilai (薄熙来) and his henchman slash vice Mayor slash Chief of Police, Wang Lijun (王立军).

The scandal and source of gossip: Wang Lijun visited the US Consulate. The Chongqing military policy surrounded the Consulate, demanding the US to handover Wang Lijun. Beijing sent Qiu Jin, vice Minister of National Security. 24 hours after entering, Wang Lijun “willingly” left the US consulate with Qiu Jin. Subsequently, Bo Xilai went to Kunming for unknown reasons.

I have been trying to understand what’s at stake, why the fallout, and how to read between the lines. This is what I’ve gathered; some of the gossip may even be reliable.

The dramatic background of the Bo Xilai scandal is the fight to become a member of the Politboro Standing Committee, which is a recognized springboard for becoming President and Premier, positions one and two in China. Bo Xilai is one of the more prominent and/or notorious members of China’s Princeling Party (太子党), the generation of Party leaders who have come to power because of their powerful parents. Bo Xilai’s father, Bo Yibo was one of the “eight immortals” of the Deng era Communist Party. The Princelings are in the news because China’s next leader Xi Jinping, son of Communist veteran, Xi Zhongxun is also a Princeling.

There are five positions which are always considered for the new Politboro Standing Committee — the Party Secretary of each of China’s Four Independent Cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing) and the Party Secretary of Guangdong Province.

Bo Xilai is the Party Secretary of Chongqing. It’s an open secret, that “super woman (女强人)”, Wu Yi (吴仪) chased him out of Beijing when she retired in 2007. In other words, becoming Mayor of Chongqing was a demotion or detour from Bo Xilai’s ascent to the top of the Party apparatus. In order to fight his way back to the Center, Bo Xilai promoted Wang Lijun on a “tough on mafia” platform, which in practice meant using Cultural Revolution songs and methods to detain, arrest, and — here’s the rub — confiscate property of suspected mafia members in Chongqing. This program was the so-called, “sing red attack the mafia (唱红打黑)” campaign and involved billions of yuan, much of which has presumably been channeled to Bo Xilai. In fact, the Chinese web has followed the exploits of Bo Xilai’s son, Bo Guagua (薄瓜瓜), who attended Cambridge and lives the high life, drives a Ferrari, and frequently appears in tabloid quality photos. (A letter which Guagua may or may not written to his father about his father’s relationship with “Uncle Wang” is now circulating online.)

One of Bo Xilai’s competitors for the coveted Politboro appointment is Guangdong Provincial Secretary, Wang Yang (汪洋). In the aftermath of the Wukan compromise and the Foshan strikes, Wang Yang has a reputation as being “soft”. In contrast, Bo Xilai was trying to present himself as “tough”. However, his problem is that Wang Lijun is reputed to be a part of the mafia and his sing red attack the mafia targets may or may not have been involved in illegal activities, but all were either rich or political problems for Bo Laixi.   Thus, to clean up his act before the 18th national people’s congress, Bo Laixi had decided to sacrifice Wang Lijun. The penalty for a mafia related conviction is death.

So why did Wang Lijun go to the US consulate? The speculation is that he could not find support high enough to protect him from Bo Laixi. Moreover, the Chinese web reminds us that Wang Lijun is actually Mongolian, with the name Bata’er, which means “真勇士” or “true warrior”. Consequently, he was willing to break the rules of Party politics as usual and bring the US into the picture.

As I write, Canadian Prime Minister Harper is visiting China. He asked to meet the five Politboro hopefuls and was scheduled to meet Bo Xilai today, February 10. We’re waiting to see what happens and how the latest development is explained, interpreted, and elaborated online and beyond.

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