28 Sep 2012

Online chatter about China’s political soap opera

The commentary on the Chinese news agency, Xinhua, is clear. Today’s announcement that the disgraced politician Bo Xilai has been expelled from the Chinese Communist Party “has nothing to do with a so-called ‘political struggle’.”

Not many Chinese, let alone outside observers, believe that. Despite the constant repetition of the phrase “rule of law”, and the news that Bo will be handed over to the “relevant judicial authorities”, it’s widely understood that this has been the most intense political struggle within the party for decades.

Bo Xilai has lost, and the path is now clear for Xi Jinping, his main rival, to take over the leadership of the Party and the country. The long rivalry between two “princelings” – sons of former leaders, Communist aristocracy – is settled.

The announcement of the date for the 18th Party Congress, when the leadership for the next decade will be presented to the world, indicates that the power struggle has been resolved.

Originally the congress was expected to be held in October, but is now scheduled for November 8th. The delay is most likely a sign of how much the party elite has to get sorted before they can go ahead. The intrigue has distracted them from other issues, such as the decline in economic growth.

In August, Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted of murdering a British businessman, Neil Heywood. Earlier this month, Bo’s closest aide, Wang Lijun, was given a light sentence for his involvement. Last year, he fled to the US Consulate in Chengdu, apparently fearful that Bo would turn on him because he knew too much about the couple’s abuse of power.

On Weibo, a Chinese chat site, this political soap opera is the prime topic of conversation. Many question how Bo Xilai managed to rise so high, over such a long period of time if he’s now condemned as utterly corrupt.

Liu Xiaoyuan, a lawyer, wrote: “During the time when Bo Xilai was first the head of Dalian city, then Liaoning Province, then Ministry of Commerce, finally Politburo member and Party Secretary of Chongqing, he seriously violated the Party discipline, abused his power for personal gains, took vast amount of bribes directly or through his family. We ask: why did he keep moving up the political ladder all these years? Would he have been exposed if Wang Lijun hadn’t fled? Will those who promoted him be held responsible?”

Zhao Chu, a columnist, says: “Bo Xilai has fallen. But we must understand that Bo did not descend to China from above. He moved step by step to the top. His wife and his followers succeeded in causing harm to many for more than a decade. This is not incidental. The political system, the lack of rule of law and the silencing of the media by authoritarians created the soil for people like Bo to bloom.”

Bo has been accused of having relationships with “a number of women” – an allegation that could be levelled at many senior members of the Chinese Communist Party, which is probably why this sarcastic comment was censored: “Inappropriate sexual relations with multiple women? Damn. That’s not the sexual problem most Chinese officials have.”

There’s a lot of online speculation about the names of Bo’s mistresses and the extent of the fortune he amassed. The Communist Party leaders have come down harshly on Bo because they want to give the impression that his was an individual crime, not evidence of a rotten system, but many Chinese remain to be convinced.

“What about those who are still in power today?” asks one anonymous commentator. “If Bo’s crimes went on for over 10 years, who else is committing the same crime in their powerful positions?”.

What is Bo Xilai accused of?
According to Xinhua

– He took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family.

– His position was also abused by his wife Bogu Kailai to seek profits for others, and the Bo family accepted a huge amount of money and property from others.

– Bo had or maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women.

– He was also found to have violated organizational and personnel disciplines and made erroneous decisions in the promotion of personnel, resulting in serious consequences.

– The investigation also uncovered evidence that suggests his involvement in other crimes.

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