‘China Digital Times’ and ‘China Media Project’ might usually offer the reader a more informed insight into what is actually going on inside the People’s Republic of China. However, this morning’s episode of the Bo Xilai saga comes to you courtesy of Al Jazeera and the news has to be that with the ‘Guardian’ also reporting the story at great length, this has to be the greatest example of China washing its dirty washing, or having it washed, in public since the Chen Liangyu scandal, which culminated with Chen, the ex-mayor of Shanghai, being sentenced to 18 years in prison on April 11, 2008.
That might be ominous for Bo, who we are told today, has just been removed from his post as the Communist Party Chief in Chongqing and who might, according to the mainstream western media, be under investigation in Beijing. Of course, the academic caution in that sentence is well advised because of the limited information available from official sources. Nevertheless, there is enough information available for us to use our powers of deduction to get closer to answering the questions that matter. Why has he been dismissed? What are the political consequences of his removal and, what will become of Bo himself?
Firstly, Bo ostensibly cultivated his very own personality cult in his battle against crime and for a return to Maoist values campaigns in Chongqing and as the ‘Economist’ correctly identifies these “rather transparent attempts to harness popular support for his own advancement within the Party marked a sharp departure from the way top-level politics are handled in China. This too may have played a role in his downfall.” This most definitely did pay a role in his downfall and there can be no doubt that Bo, who was in line to get into the powerful nine-member Polit Bureau Standing Committee was incapable of fitting to into a system that, since Deng Xiaoping’s death, puts the emphasis on collective leadership.
Indeed, the outgoing Premier, Wen Jiabao, appeared to be alluding to Bo yesterday when he said that unless China reforms politically, there might be a “historical tragedy” similar to the cultural revolution. The inference to the “Maoist” Bo is obvious and a catastrophic scenario where Bo Xilai, or anyone else for that matter, can pursue Maoist economic and social policies must be avoided at all cost. However, we don’t know the nature of the reforms Web Jiabao has in mind and my own assessment is that there is at least the possibility that, while Bo’s removal is politically expedient for Beijing, Wen Jiabao and the rest of the leadership are walking on thin ice; we can only speculate on what the real political consequences of a further public reassessment of the cultural revolution and of Mao himself might be. What are the implications for the Chinese Communist Party if the “70% good, 30% bad” formula is to be questioned?
Finally, what about Bo Xilai himself? Again the ‘Economist’ seems to be getting it just about right when it writes that “should he be prosecuted, it would mark yet another sharp departure from tradition. Figures with family backgrounds like Mr Bo’s tend not to be treated that way; it would be the sign of a great rift at the highest level.” The implication is that as the son of Bo Yibo, one of the party’s “eight immortals” from the late 1970s, Bo Xilai will be spared Chen Liangyu’s fate, and, as Independent Beijing-based journalist Li Datong, suggests, while his political life is effectively over, we might expect him to be “granted some idle position, like deputy chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference or the NPC.”