Neil Heywood was murdered because he apparently threatened to reveal the extent of Gu Kailai’s overseas investments. Now the Chinese government is sending a team to Hong Kong to investigate Bo Xilai’s business interests and, with reports coming out that the combined fortunes run into the hundreds of millions of US dollars, we can be fairly certain that … well, it is elementary my dear Watson and no Sherlock Holmes is going to be needed on this case.
However, while the Chinese government might have reasoned that it is expedient to present the Bo Xilai case as a clear-cut corruption issue and not, as a result of factional political infighting, there is a Pandora’s box here which, when opened might reveal something that Beijing will find difficult to control. After all, even the hundreds of millions of US $s that the Bo family have stuffed away in overseas investments pales into insignificance when compared to the $126 billion that a People’s Bank of China report, which was later deleted from its website, says has been transferred by officials since the mid 1990s and, if the People’s Bank of China reported this, we might only be looking at the tip of the iceberg.
The problem, for Beijing is not only that corruption flourishes in authoritarian regimes, but also, as most Chinese know, Tian Gao Huang-di Yuan (heaven is high and the emperor is far away). In other words, away from the watchful eye of central government local elites will continue to be, more or less, a law unto themselves and it is only when they are seen, in one way or another, as a threat to the central government that they will be reined in. If the leadership in Beijing is to continue to adhere to Deng Xiaoping’s absurd “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” there can be no alternative to the system built on Guanxi and red envelopes.
The transparency required to tackle corruption, would not only endanger the CCP’s monopoly on political power, but it would also lead to a system of government that would threaten Beijing’s primacy on many issues. In other words, it would lead to a real federal system in China.
First things first, however, and by going after Bo because of corruption, it might just be that Beijing has set something in motion which it will ultimately find difficult to control. When you start, where do you stop? After all, we can be quite sure that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of officials, who are at least as corrupt as the popular Mr. Bo.