By Bhaskar Roy
Barely six months to go for the once in ten-years leadership change in October, a major power struggle exploded in China. Chongqing Municipality Party Chief and Politburo member, Bo Xilai was declared removed from all his posts in Chongqing. Reasons separately conveyed within the Party blamed Bo for mishandling the case of Wang Lijun, his police chief who entered the US consulate in Chengdu in a bid to defect. Wang carried with him crucial secret documents. The US refused him asylum, but may have kept copies of the documents. Wang was arrested by security personnel from Beijing.
It may be noted here that while Bo Xilai’s dismissal from his Chongqing posts was officially announced, there has been no public mention of his politburo post. Does this mean that Bo is still politically alive to fight his battle? He was almost a certainty to be elevated to the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) at the 18th congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October.
Bo Xilai was considered a political heavy weight. His father Bo Yibo a revolutionary leader, had suffered during the Cultural Revolution. His mother was killed by the Red Guard goons. After the Maoist and the infamous Gang of Four were defeated in 1976, Deng Xiaoping gradually took over power. Bo Yibo became Finance Minister in Deng Xiaoping’s regime, and was known as one of the “Eight Immortals”, the most powerful group led by Deng who saved China from the brink of disaster.
Like many other leaders of that time who had been presented during the Cultural Revolution, Bo Yibo was not a liberal. Perhaps none of them really were. They were not for the individual. They were concerned with the cohesiveness and power of the Party. The Party and the country became synonymous, and the country’s future is linked with the Party, and the Party is supreme. This view has not changed.
While the Cultural Revolution has been officially condemned, Mao Zedong who crafted and led the tumultuous years in China, had been judged 70 per cent correct and 30 per cent wrong. No official judgement has been made on Mao’s anti-rightist campaign of 1957, and the Great Leap Forward in 1958, a disastrous economic policy, in which millions died.
The Cultural Revolution is a taboo subject, and no further research in it are allowed. Refusal to face the anti-rightist campaign and the Great Leap Forward has similarly discouraged even academic research into these subjects. These issues bring to light vividly the political and ideological contradictions alive in the China which impact the country’s power politics.
Bo Xilai belongs to a, upcoming power group or faction in China’s politics. They are the children of revolutionary leaders who also fought the destructive Maoist campaign. These children are known as ‘princelings’ (or Tuanpai in Chinese). Being the privileged with powerful connection both in the party and the army, they feel that it is their destiny to rule. But it cannot be said that all princelings hold similar views of politics and economics.
There is the old Shanghai factions led by former Party Chief and President, Jiang Zemin. Bo was supposed to belong to that faction. Other top leaders of the Shanghai faction reportedly include PBSC outgoing members Zhou Youghong, Li Changhun and Jia Qingling.
The other powerful faction is the Communist Youth League (CYL). Party Chief Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and putative Premier Li Kesheng, all PBSC members, belong to the CYL. They are beginning to grow in power. The CYL claim they did all the hard work as the underprivileged and the major share of power should come to them.
Following his posting as the Chongqing Party Chief in2007, Bo Xilai embarked with a crusader’s zeal to cleanse the municipality of the established mafia. The “strike black” campaign was a great success. Chongqing was the only provincial administrative area where the anti-crime drive was a great success. He brought in Wang Lijun as his police chief who was mainly responsible for the ruthless drive during which more than four thousand were arrested and 13 executed for various degrees of corruption.
Bo went a step further by organizing ‘Red Songs’ soirees of the Cultural Revolution era and also moved to diminish private enterprises and promote public sector. He started pushing certain old leftist ethics. Finally he began to promote his personality cult. A neon sign in the centre of city read “Secretary Bo, works hard”, much in Maoist style. Economically, the municipality did well and the ordinary people began adulating him publicly.
The cleaning up of big crime along with better social measures was held up as the “Chongqing Model”. Most of China’s top leaders starting from Zhou Yongkang and Li Changcheum visited Chongqing. The only two leaders did not visit were Party Chief Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
According to reports which cannot be confirmed, Bo is alleged to have told some confidants that all these central leaders were incompetent and must go. This was interpreted as Bo planning to take control of China.
Perhaps encouraged by his initial success and media reports praising him, Bo Xilai got carried away. He stepped into forbidden areas, and went against established central policies.
The second generation leadership led by Deng and his colleagues put and end to personality cult. Mao was allowed to build his, and then led to chaos and destruction in the country. Gradually, the Party leadership with the General Secretary as the core was brought down to collective leadership, though the General Secretary was the first among equals. There would be democratic discussions to come to a consensus in which the General Secretary’s views may not supersede that of the others.
Though provinces had certain autonomy, they had to implement the central lines. There cannot be a municipality or a province independent of the centre. “Mountain warlordim” of chieftains challenging the centre was unacceptable. This is the precise reason why Deng, as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), reduced the number Military Regions (MRs) from eleven to seven, and established a tenure posting of military commanders and political commissars in MRs to ensure that the nexus between provincial party leaders and the local military was broken. Civilian-Military equations were conducted at the centre with the CMC chairman being the General Secretary, a civilian. Even the First Vice Chairman of the CMC for a period could be a civilian. Bo crossed this line by organising some military exercised in one of which Defence Minister Gen. Li Guanglie was present.
Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up policy of 1978 encouraged private and joint enterprise including foreign-local enterprise. This was responsible for China’s economic explosion. Bo Xilai seemingly tried to counter it by promotion of state owed enterprise to private enterprise. Here Bo may have wider support as state owned enterprise are institutions used to place party members with perks and privileges, and received most of government stimulus package to energise the economy in 2009.
For the public, Bo Xilai had to be brought down not through a political struggle but administrative reasons. Police Chief Wang Lijun had confronted Bo with evidence of his relatives including his wife involved in corruption. Hounded by Bo and his administration, Wang did what is openly known. For the Chinese people, Bo was removed for mishandling the Wang Lijun case. But China’s micro bloggers did not believe it. They saw a much bigger political problem.
According to the black listed Falun Gong meditation group news out let, the “Epoch Times” (March 26), before Bo’s dismissal, Premier Wen proposed redressing the 1989 Tienanmen massacre, and of former General Secretaries Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang and the Falun Gong. Wen also proposed removal of Bo Xilai. Zhou Yongkang reportedly opposed vehemently, and Hu Jintao kept silent.
It is difficult to authenticate this information. But Falun Gong adherents, despite persecution, have spread widely including in the armed forces, security agencies and the Party. If true, it opens a huge struggle in the Chinese Communist Party.
Wen Jiabao, who came from humble beginnings, was liberal Party Chief Hu Yaobang’s assistant Hu died just before the students uprisings exploded in 1989. His successor, Zhao Ziyang, another liberal and reformist, was dismissed in the height of the upheaval. Hu and Zhao, both supported by Deng Xiaoping pressed for political liberalization and transparency. Bo Xilai’s father Bo Yibo, was one of the leading figures in supporting the military crackdown on student demonstrators. Wen survived and worked his way up. But since 1989, all reforms especially political reforms were frozen.
Wen Jiabao’s strident calls for political reform over the last two years was termed by some Chinese liberals as “story telling” or a farce. Wen appears to have proved that he was promoting new ideas, which is beginning to catch on the imaginations inside the party.
After 1989, the political line was divided. The conservatives stood against any change, while the reformists kept their heads down only periodically keeping their political line just alive.
This is not the first dismissal of a politburo member. In 1995, Beijing Party Secretary Chen Xitong was dismissed for corruption and sentenced to 18 years in prison. His main problem was that he opposed Jiang Zenmin taking control of Beijing. In 2006, Shanghai Party Chief Chen Liangyu was also dismissed and jailed for corruption. A protigise of Jiang Zemin, Chen was resisting Hu Jintao’s influence in Shanghai. There is no Chinese leader who can be said to be corruption free. But the fall comes on political issues.
The Bo Xilai dismissal appears to be much larger than that of Chen Xitong and Chen Liangyu. In his three-hours press interaction on March 14, Premier Wen
Jiabao mentioned, without naming Bo Xilai, that a return to Cultural Revolution remained a threat. The politics this time is much larger and fundamental. It is a clash between lines, and which sides wrests power will their line. Wen Jiabao will retire next March. But will he leave behind successors who will carry on the fight? If the primacy of the Party and not people’s aspirations remain paramount, the reformists are unlikely to win. But the struggle is unlikely to subside. Too much has changed in globalised world.