Guest Post: A Death In Chongqing

[Note: this post is cross-posted (with light editing) from the FOARP blog, and does not necessarily reflect anyone's views other than my own. All errors are mine - Gil]

[Note from Richard: This guest post does not necessarily reflect my own views.]
 

Bo Xilai, disgraced politburo member

From my seat in a delightfully pretentious health-food restaurant (think Shanghai’s Element Fresh, but Polish) thousands of miles from Chongqing I do not have much to add to analysis of the various goings on in the PRC Politburo, but I would like to draw attention to a few articles which, to me, strike the right cord, as well as adding a little barely-informed speculation of my own.

I think Sinostand’s points – that the only remarkable things about the Bo case are that it involves the death of a laowai and that Bo’s wrongdoings, unlike those of other senior officials, have been acknowledged by the government – are very much correct. Had Bo Xilai been less obviously ambitious and more easily believable as a politburo bit-player, then it is impossible to believe that these accusations of corruption would have been directed against him.

The involvement of a foreigner in this case comes a long way second in this. It is very hard to believe that the investigation into Neil Heywood’s death would have been “reinvestigated” (was it investigated the first time?) if Bo was not in disfavour. The fact that the investigation only followed what we must now call the “Chengdu incident” (Wang Lijun’s apparent attempted defection), which itself came at a convenient time to ensure that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang’s main rival for the top spot was out of the way ahead of their coronation at the “Two Meetings”, strongly suggests that it is part of an attempt to make Bo’s name mud.

Incidentally, it also leaves a strong suspicion (in my mind at least) that Neil Heywood may not have been murdered. Indeed, I would not at all be surprised if, like the investigation into Ai Weiwei for tax evasion, the investigation was wound up without actually resulting in criminal charges. Since the China has the death penalty for murder (and many other crimes – including corruption), it would not at all be surprising if China’s ruling class wished to avoid a trial ending in the execution of a former politburo member or his wife. It is also hard to believe that the British government will wish to press an issue which, for them, there is no up-side to.

The second article I would like to draw attention to is Jeremiah Jenne’s latest post on Rectified.name. Jeremiah is definitely correct to say that the impact of this case will be that, in future, people will be far more willing to believe rumours about the various goings on of those in power now that so many of the initial rumours surrounding the “Chengdu Incident” have been confirmed by the PRC state media. A lot of people, myself included, had been inclined to pooh-pooh the Weibo rumour machine – particularly after the fiasco surrounding last year’s supposed death of Jiang Zemin, which I was also initially taken in by. Reporting on rumours in China, so long as they are clearly marked as such, seems A-OK to me.

There’s also a couple of lessons in this for China expats and China watchers:

- Stay away from the CCP and its affairs. I always get a sinking feeling when I hear of an expat going to work for the Chinese government, be it in a state media organ like China Radio International, or in some other capacity. A foreign passport is no protection against CCP shenanigans and you cannot expect your own government to press too hard when there are no immediate national interests in doing so. The line I was told in Nanjjing in 2003 about it being much worse to be falsely accused of spying than to be accurately accused of spying, since no government will be willing to arrange an exchange for a non-spy, remains very true.

- The essential political system of the People’s Republic of China is still Leninist – that is to say, power is still reserved to a ‘revolutionary vanguard party’ exercising ‘democratic centralism’, or in plain language, a one-party dictatorship. Since 1989 it has been common for governing teams to serve a ten-year term, but this is in no way set in stone. If at any point it suits the top leadership of the CCP to give someone the shove this will be done regardless of public opinion or position – popular or not, seemly or not, and any weapon that can be used against them will be used – including, perhaps, allegations of murder.

Finally, Boxun (a Chinese emigre rumour-mill) is now carrying rumours (there’s that word again) that Zhou Yongkang, the PRC Politburo’s main enforcer, is next in line for attitude-correction, and that, as I had suspected since I first knew that the post-2012 politburo would include Bo in a non-top-two position, Bo may have been thinking of a coup:

“Insiders say Zhou had met Bo several times in Beijing, Chongqing and Chengdu, planning to prepare him for promotion to secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee later this year. If the plan succeeded, they would potentially be able to take power from Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over as the party’s general secretary, within two years. Zhou reportedly told Bo and Wang that Xi was too timid and thus not suitable to lead the country. He suggested Bo take advantage of his media power and public support to seize power by 2014.”

If this report is true (something which is obviously unknowable at the moment), it appears that Bo and Zhou may well have gravely misjudged the Xi/Li team – or the people who picked them for power, the Hu/Wen partnership.

[Picture: Bo Xilai, disgraced former politburo member, Via Wiki]

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 63 Comments

Usually it’s the second wives which bring profile officials adrift. Gu broke the mould.

No, thats not true. Bo was heading for a gutser well before Wang’s consulate runner and wifey’s novel approach to conflict resolution.

April 14, 2012 @ 7:33 am | Comment

“Stay away from the CCP and its affairs. I always get a sinking feeling when I hear of an expat going to work for the Chinese government, be it in a state media organ like China Radio International, or in some other capacity. A foreign passport is no protection against CCP shenanigans and you cannot expect your own government to press too hard when there are no immediate national interests in doing so.” ~FOARP

Wise words indeed.

I extracted myself from the land of milk (tainted) and honey (ersatz) a couple years ago and, unfortunately, need to go back once in a while to tie up some loose ends.

I used to care about goings on there but in the last couple years before leaving, I couldn’t be bothered. Leave that to the wide eyed, F-O-B English teachers/entrepreneurs thinking they’re going to get a gig with “The Atlantic” or meet some douchebag 4th tier city party officials and stroke the guanxi (hello, Mr. Rein).

It is a snakepit, filthy to the core and the higher up one gets, the dirtier it is. Grandpa Wen? Try The Godfather.

I feel for the decent, common people there who are just trying to make a comfortable life and have been left behind and f-ed by “their government”. There are many and they are in line one day for a major s**t storm.

Today’s analysis in the NY Times (Gawd! A biased Western source!) by Michael Wines and Sharon LaFraniere really summed up CCP shenanigans beautifully…

April 14, 2012 @ 1:26 pm | Comment

@ Chinese Netizen

Look, politics everywhere is a fucking snakepit. The bigger lesson here is that being an expat doesn’t afford you any special privileges in the snakepit. People might be more polite to you, but business is business.

April 14, 2012 @ 11:08 pm | Comment

@tubby

Gu is the second wife.

April 15, 2012 @ 2:26 am | Comment

@By t_co
Yes, snakepits everywhere. But are the snakes in the pit poisonous, constrictors or just scary.

That is the difference

April 15, 2012 @ 12:33 pm | Comment

@KT – Yes, Bo was always too obviously an ambitious man.

@Chinese Netizen – I’m not down on China, but I think there’s some in the expat community who like to think that they can play in the CCP’s game of influence and power without getting burnt. Instead we are seeing that, much as expats in Russia learned back in the 90′s, a passport is no shield.

@t_co – Yes, politics everywhere can be a dirty game. In China, with it’s weak rule of law (at least in the criminal area and in relation to those in power) and opaque political decision-making apparatus, it can be positively foul.

Since this is obviously going to lead people to make comparisons to scandals occurring elsewhere, let me try to make some pre-emptively.

In the United States much has been done – supposedly in the public interest – during the war on terror that is deplorable, and has gone uninvestigated or otherwise glossed over. However, to find an example of a politician behaving in their own interest as Bo and his associates stand accused of behaving in their own interest, even the Nixon administration delivers no parallels.

In the UK, even the Profumo affair did not involve anything more than an unfortunate liaison between a senior minister and a prostitute with Russian connections. Perhaps the scandal surrounding Jeremy Thorpe’s downfall is closer – particularly his trial for murder, but Thorpe was never in government.

I suppose Germany did have a major scandal when it was discovered that one of Willi Brandt’s closest aides was actually a Stasi agent, but there was no actual implication of wrong-doing on Brandt’s part in that affair even if he stood accused of serial adultery. Brandt’s resignation removed a lot of the sting from this scandal though.

France, of course, has a long history of scandals involving senior politicians. Mitterand had his opponents wire-tapped, Chiraq was accused of corruption during his time as mayor of Paris. Still, I can’t think of any French politician who actually got mixed up in a murder case.

April 15, 2012 @ 7:14 pm | Comment

One more thing – I don’t doubt that Bo was corrupt, but he has also been the target of a transparent screw-job. Do we see any of the people who so regularly jump to the CCP’s defence acknowledging this? Or do they either prefer to mouth the party line or ignore the affair all together?

April 15, 2012 @ 8:19 pm | Comment

Brandt’s resignation removed a lot of the sting from this scandal though.

It wasn’t that much of a sting – the Stasi had people in almost every department. Willy Brandt’s main reason to resign was that he had trouble in catching up with inflation, a huge appetite among the labor unions for wage rises, and – personal – blues.

When economic minister Martin Bangemann’s secretary turned out to be an East German spy, there were no calls for Bangemann’s resignation either.

They remained on personally friendly terms during and after her trial in 1992.

April 16, 2012 @ 2:43 am | Comment

To Gil/FOARP #7,
precisely. There is now the possible messy business in Bo’s and his family’s private life being aired in the open. And there is Bo being strapped over the CCP’s political barrel. Is one the cause of, or in any other way related to, the other? Who knows. But it’s the latest chapter in that fantastic thing known as the CCP system. I don’t think the CCP apologists will want to touch this one…although if they manage not to, that would actually reflect unusually good judgement on their part.

Nice preemption with the comparisons, btw. Though as you’ve shown, there aren’t really any comparable comparators. But then again, that’s never stopped them before…

April 16, 2012 @ 6:48 am | Comment

@7. Okay, second legal wife.

Some reference somewhere that Heywood had Bristish intelligence contacts.

Basically, Bo and Wang were very selective about who they hauled before the courts. Read some of Garnauts older news pieces.

Bo and wifeys business dealings are pretty stinky I suspect. Anyway Bo will be flatout getting a job running a duck farm in Guizhou province after his enemies finish with the rum, sodomy and the lash.

Yes Wen. Cuddly vox pop uncle, but he has a pretty good cordon sanitaire around his wife’s Imelda Marcos type diamond dealings.

This is the best fun in China for years.

Western passports doing business in Sino land. God, it appears to be littered with Australian nationals who came to grief due to aggressive takeovers and other very grey dealings. Ng being the most recent example.

April 16, 2012 @ 9:00 am | Comment

I should have done a google news search first.

Crikey, if the tabloids are to be believed. Heywood bopped Bo’s wife and Bo himself was a bit of a serial pants man. No surprises in either case, so we now have two lines on inquiry: the money trail and good old fashion nookie plus jealousy.

With bit of luck some compromising photos will turn up somewhere.

April 16, 2012 @ 9:24 am | Comment

Would love to see a clear, organizational breakdown type chart of the top 100 CCP goons and the nationalities/residencies of their immediate family members…

They push the patriotism game down the throat of 老白姓 that can’t even get a PRC passport and then scurry like roaches when a kitchen light comes on…

April 16, 2012 @ 1:07 pm | Comment

I too would love to see such a chart. And after we see where those good folks all live, maybe we can see some tax returns among these top officials. I’d be interested to learn how the kids of these top honchos end up in US universities paying foreign student-rate tuition fees, and how that measures up against CCP salaries. Then again, I guess it is not inconceivable that these kids all got “scholarships” like Bo Melon-Melon apparently did. I mean, their dads were smart enough to get to the top rungs of the CCP, so these kids probably got a good genetic endowment.

April 16, 2012 @ 3:28 pm | Comment

[...] The story of the high ranking Chinese politburo member Bo Xilai and his ties to the murder of a British expat is really something. [...]

April 16, 2012 @ 3:45 pm | Pingback

Would love to see a clear, organizational breakdown type chart of the top 100 CCP goons

So would the top goons themselves, if a commenter at the China Media Proeject in August last year was right.

With a clear and realtime-updated top-goons billboard, you’d always know with whom to gang up, and at whom to strike. Not quite the rule of law, but some more calculability.

But who should take charge of computing the data? Some scientific unit with the state council, maybe?

April 16, 2012 @ 4:32 pm | Comment

I would take a long hard look at any claims being made in this case, both for and against Bo Xilai and his wife. Everything about it reeks of manipulation and cover up. The Chinese journalist who originally broke the story says that he received tip offs via an anonymous text message. Oh really? In any ‘normal’ country a lead like that would be followed up within the day, by the government if not the press. Can you imagine if an anonymous text message sent to a US journalist claimed that one of the Clinton family was implicated in the murder of a foreigner in Washington DC? I think a lot of people would want to know who is doing the leaking. In this case it may just be a rival trying to ensure that Bo Xilai is completely beyond the pale. Politburo members such as Jia Qinglin have survived accusations of massive corruption, but who could continue if implicated in the murder of a western businessman? It’s quite possible that Bo Xilai was becoming too much of a loose cannon and ignored the advice of politburo members to pull his head in. And now he’s been fixed.

April 16, 2012 @ 5:43 pm | Comment

@SKC – Unfortunately, when people have tried comparing official salaries with evidence of conspicuous wealth (e.g., photos of LV bags, expensive cigarettes and watches, kids studying overseas), they have a tendency to end up being censored.

April 16, 2012 @ 6:02 pm | Comment

@ Mick. That goes without saying and thats why this mini-series is so delicious.

http://www.topgoonschart.org. Now there is a 24/7 lifetime mission for someone with too much time on their hands.

No scribbler of Chinese Officialdom Fiction could top this story for it narrative twists and turns, shadow play national context,etc.

This is a mega best-seller just calling out for an author.

And lets shed any tears for Heywood. Just another shifty expat playing all sides of the game until he bit into the potassium fortune cookie. And look who is belatedly going in to bat for him now that he is as dead as a maggot, the very bald William Hague who is enough to scare any Chinese diplomatic official to death.

Now that the Sino corruption and power politics angle has been done to death, we should focus on the sexual jealousy and poisoning aspect.

Bo and wifey might have seen themselves as the first Sino power couple similar to JFK and Jackie B, but for some reason they now remind me of a murderous pair found in some Jim Thompson novel or The Postman….

To be sure, there have probably have been similar upper eschelon episodes such as this, the difference being that this time we get to watch this series episode by weekly episode, possibly due to the changing media landscape in China.

Whatever, the bulk of the Chinese people are sheep, who would similarly graft their way to the top, if they had the connections and wherewithal in a very crowded market place for governmental positions/sinecures.

Western style system of govt in China. Silly liberal Western wet dream.

Hard wired socio-cultural characterstics don’t change over time…past, present or the future.

Holding out for some sexually compromising photos meself.

April 17, 2012 @ 10:01 am | Comment

Let’s not forget two unresolved

April 17, 2012 @ 3:05 pm | Comment

…and potentially explosive threads of the plot:

1. The son in the US

2. The unsubstantiated dossier in the UK

Such a riveting intrigue!

(Sorry for the previous, premature submission)

April 17, 2012 @ 3:09 pm | Comment

Poor Melon-melon has been left in the cold… now without a power dad for Western businessmen to toady up to for exploitation of the Chinese market or political access for “China Expert” professors and guys like Thomas Friedman to further write about, will he truly receive his Harvard diploma and career with a VC firm or too-big-to-fail bank???

Truly a mini-series in the making! Sign up the guys that wrote “The Wire”!!

April 17, 2012 @ 4:30 pm | Comment

@KT – Maybe if Bo sent his laptop in for repairs we might learn something . . . .

April 17, 2012 @ 4:39 pm | Comment

Cherchez la femme?

April 18, 2012 @ 12:18 am | Comment

Il y a une femme dans toutes les affaires; aussitôt qu’on me fait un rapport, je dis: «Cherchez la femme!»

Translated into English this reads:

There is a woman in every case; as soon as they bring me a report, I say, ‘Look for the woman!’

April 18, 2012 @ 12:20 am | Comment

To foarp,
Lol. Is that an Edison Chen reference?

April 18, 2012 @ 12:57 am | Comment

This probably isn’t what Wang Lijun had in mind when he said this quote.

He boasted that he would hire a prominent Hong Kong director to make a movie of his exploits, saying it would be modeled on “The Godfather.”

So far, the media reports coming out here have read like something out of James Ellroy’s LA Quartet.

April 18, 2012 @ 1:34 am | Comment

Quote about Melon-melon in today’s NY Times article on how he was detrimental to daddy’s image as a frugal communist:

“In interviews, many of his friends rejected the notion that he was a playboy or a poor student, and they described him as exceedingly generous. He is quick to pick up a bar tab, they said, and he liberally handed out tickets for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “His concern for China and its people is deep-rooted and real,” said one friend in China who spends time with him during his frequent visits home. “He’s a big thinker. When he gets drunk, he talks about important things.””

April 18, 2012 @ 2:09 am | Comment

@ Chinese Netizen – LOL, like Stalin said to Pasternak (he’d called him out of the blue to ask why he shouldn’t put Osip Mandelstam out of the way): “You don’t know how to defend your friends”.

April 18, 2012 @ 6:02 am | Comment

The US has no political infighting? Stop joking me. At least Bo Xilai is still alive, Kennedy and Martin Luther King are wishing they were born in China right now.

In US, if you lose a political struggle, your body gets dumped underground, why do you think there’s so much oil reserve in the United States?

April 18, 2012 @ 8:22 am | Comment

“At least Bo Xilai is still alive…”
Well, no one’s seen him, his wife or Wang since…so are you sure? Hand on heart?
As for Kennedy and MLK wishing in the present tense that they were born in China…no. They can’t, you see, as they are dead. They might have wished (past tense) but they will never wish in the present tense….
Where’d they bury Sarah Palin, by the way? Or that other bloke that sounded like a health drink….Santorum, is it?
I dunno, HX, but sometimes your posts really remind me of stuff Mao said – what was his favourite expression? Aaaah, yes, “dog farts” :-) That’s just like the gas China could be powering itself on, instead of wasting it on international blogs and news media ;-)

April 18, 2012 @ 9:20 am | Comment

[26]

To be honest this whole saga sounds more like 007 to me.

April 18, 2012 @ 9:32 am | Comment

It’s a “Hu dun it” if you ask me ;-)

April 18, 2012 @ 10:56 am | Comment

@ HX

Who really gives a fuck the expected outcome of losing a political struggle is? For that matter, the outcome of winning a political struggle shouldn’t really matter either… nor should the mechanism that separates winning and losing–EXCEPT in the context of how they prod and goad politicians to better serve the national interest. At least that’s my point of view–all systems of governance are morally equal; it is how their relative ability to achieve the moral goods of welfare, freedom, and equality before authority given the unique national circumstances of geography, culture, and economics that make them good or bad. (Arguing otherwise is just pointless dick waving–the true things that matter for a country are the well-being/freedom of her people and her national strength; everything else is just a means to that end).

Victor Shih of Northwestern has produced some really interesting reading on the topic; extrapolating from his points, we can see that for the past 30 years China’s political system has been geared toward rewarding politicians who can produce economic growth by any means possible, while avoiding “incidents” (riots, environmental disasters, scandals, pissing off the Standing Committee, etc.).

The rewards? Promotion, obviously, but the other big one is the opportunity to “share in the economic growth” via corruption. Let’s face it–corruption is institutionalized in China, and is just as big an influence on official behavior as the Party Discipline committee. But, see, corruption in China is managed–certain kinds of profiting are tolerated, but certain other activities are not.

For example, corruption tied to investment-driven economic growth is very common and somewhat encouraged–rent-seeking off normal public services, like that depicted by the Rio De Janiero police in Tropa de Elite, is not and is what the Party Discipline Committee focuses on investigating. Hence, it’s a no-brainer for a Chinese official to encourage that big highway project or coddle the local solar panel manufacturer–it pads his resume, and also makes him rich.

Tying this back to a larger discussion on China–most Chinese people wouldn’t give a fuck about the normative merits of this sort of behavior, so long as it gets results. People really have taken Deng’s quote on cats to heart. Regarding Bo, I don’t care if Bo makes it to the honor farm, is exonerated, or gets a brutal beatdown followed by execution–he chose the path of governing; to paraphrase Hyman Roth in the Godfather 2, “this is the business he’s chosen”.

Where I can start getting angry is when the system begins to view its own preservation over continuing to seek the welfare of the Chinese people. I can see that coming in the next few years as China needs to pivot towards a consumption-driven economy–with so much of the Party held in thrall by powerful interest groups (SOEs, the PLA, civilian enterprises, real estate developers, banks)–I just don’t see a light at the end of this tunnel with the current system.

This is not to say that a democracy is the right fix–democratic countries (the US in 1929, Japan in 1990, South Korea in 1997, Germany right now) have all botched this transition as well. But what gives me a greater sense of urgency is that China is in a far more fragile position than any of those countries–internally and externally. Not weak, but fragile–fragility being that the consequences of weakness for China are especially dire, given her population density (read: easy riots) and shitty geopolitical position (no friendly neighbors, no geographic boundaries).

In the long run, my only concern with this whole Bo Xilai affair is what chilling effect this will have on the Chinese bureaucracy. Will people still be willing to take risks? Two years ago I remember getting pretty shitfaced with a vice minister of finance (was dating his daughter at the time, don’t ask). He had been around since the start of reform; his whole career, from starting college in 1978 through 30 years of first Shanxi geo-engineering and later the Ministry had been a result of it; so I was taken aback when he said to me that Chinese reform had hit an “asymptote”, a 渐近线–why wasn’t he optimistic, I asked him. He basically said that what those farmers did in Anhui in the late 70s saved China, but he doubted that any such similar young guys today would ever try that again. Bold ideas in China, he lamented, tended towards the flashy nowadays, not the profound–nobody was seriously trying on a new approach to the old formula of “GDP growth solves everything”, because the system didn’t reward those that did.

Now with Bo’s downfall, my only fear is that those young apparatchiks draw the wrong lessons and think “hmm, all I should do now is just be quieter and not rock the boat, then I can climb steadily”–instead of drawing the lesson not to be a showman and instead of experiment with the sort of profound reforms that will lead to a better national outcome. And that is why his outcome matters. This is the lens through which we should view the punishment meted out to him and his family–it would ideally punish in such a way as to encourage the right lessons and not the wrong ones. But given that the ones doing the punishing are those that might win the most in the short term from the “wrong lesson”, I fear for that as well…

April 18, 2012 @ 11:20 am | Comment

To Red Star:
“The US has no political infighting?”
—did anyone say that? Relevance, clearly, is not your forte.

“In US, if you lose a political struggle, your body gets dumped underground, why do you think there’s so much oil reserve in the United States?”
—LOL. This should go into the Red Star Hall of Fame as a top ten entry.

To T-co,
well said. I personally don’t think there is such a thing as “good” corruption. But I would certainly agree that corruption resulting in benefit for the greater good while enriching oneself on the side is far preferable to corruption that is entirely self-serving.

April 18, 2012 @ 12:50 pm | Comment

@HX: STFU and don’t try to steer this in some irrelevant direction. Douche

April 18, 2012 @ 4:32 pm | Comment

Institutionalized, baby…

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/04/16/rotting_from_within

April 18, 2012 @ 4:34 pm | Comment

@ CN

Yep. Garnaut’s making quite a name for himself. Wonder what his trick to getting these sources is.

April 19, 2012 @ 6:29 am | Comment

A James Ellroy reference. Love it and met the dude at a book launch of American Tabloid, plus asked the best question about Buzz Meeks being a saintly, redemptive character.

In a sino version, Chief Parker would be DJP or Li Peng.

Garnaut makes the very good point that Bo made the serious mistake of politicising social and political policy. If you want to see the serious extent of Garnauts China contacts, hit up the Sydney Morning Herald and enjoy. Of course he comes from OZ and leaves types like Osnos and other lightweights in the dust

April 20, 2012 @ 7:30 am | Comment

@ t-co:

I don’t know how folks will view risk-taking after the Bo Xilai saga, but I do remember that there was another Chinese risk-taker, now forgotten with all the juicy tabloid-like news rampaging about on Bo Xilai, Wife-Bo, and Bo-Junior.

I think what Wang Yang has done is pretty good. Of course, some folks (here?) will try to paint it differently.

And before Wang Yang, it seems Li Yuanchao did pretty good as well during his time in Nanjing and Jiangsu.

In the thrall of watching the outpouring of shit and filth spewing forth from the hole in the ground, people always miss out on the gold and diamond next to it.

April 20, 2012 @ 5:19 pm | Comment

@TE Low – Good officials in the CCP? Sure, Bo Xilai was reportedly one not so long ago – but then he lost out in the CCP power struggle and suddenly we learned all these nasty things baout him. Had the chips fallen differently Wang Yang would be the one on trial.

I lived in Nanjing from 2003-2005. Nice city, nice people, but the government there, and the city police force in particular, were notoriously corrupt. The buildings they built for themselves in Jiang Ning were excessive even by the usual local government standards – one seemingly styled on the US Capitol, for example – and totally unnecessary. I knew some provincial officials working on land use, and for whom it was standard behaviou to pocket compensation money intended for farmers. The reult was that the new developments in Xianlin saw yearly protests from the farmers whose land they were built on. All just the tip of the iceberg, obviously.

@KT – Garnaut comes in above Ross Terrill as well it would seem, even though Terrill is an old China hand.

Meantime – seems some of reading of the tea leaves has gone awry already. The government is dropping heavy hints about the death penalty for Bo (so I guess that means they’ll be having that trial then) and the fact that Heywood’s death was due to “excessive drinking” when the man reportedly was only a moderate drinker (or even teetotal) makes his death look “well suss”, as we say. Plus, the Heywood/Gu affair is gaining credibility – witnesses who saw them together and such like – so it’s not like there was no motive either.

April 20, 2012 @ 8:59 pm | Comment

@RW -

“To be honest this whole saga sounds more like 007 to me

Hmm . . was Heywood a spy? Firstly, spies aren’t normally assasinated – it’s much more valuable in propaganda terms to put them on trial, or, in terms of intelligence, to exchange them for one of your own agents held by the other side. If Heywood was murdered, that would suggest that he was not a spy.

The UK government right now is making noises about MI6 not having warned them about Heywood’s death. This can be read either as them trying to say that he was not a spy, or as disinformation. At the very least, the fact that UK ministers had met with Bo the day after Heywood’s death suggests that, if Heywood had been murdered, they did not know about it.

April 20, 2012 @ 9:52 pm | Comment

Heywood was too prominent, outgoing and sloppy to have been a Western spy. Any big nose that far inside the Bo/CCP tent would be too bugged, followed and compromised to be an asset.

April 20, 2012 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

@t-co: Wonder what his trick to getting these sources is.

Dude’s been around a long time. Amongst his accomplishments was being appointed Australian Ambassador to China (85-88). A good time to get to know the current crop of Big Swinging Dicks.

April 20, 2012 @ 11:06 pm | Comment

@ Gil

As far as I am concerned (and to a certain extent, aware), there are good officials in the CCP. I know there are some very bad and smelly apples in the apple cart (and we can all debate about the percentage of bad apples to good ones), but that does not mean I will tar the entire CCP with that label. Its the same thing with American, British, French and other Western officials and governments – I don’t call everyone in those government and political parties scumbags despite the shenanigans of Bush, Cheney, Tony, Sarkozy, etc.

Re: Bo Xilai – he may have been “reportedly” a good official to you a long time ago, but he definitely was a mixed bag to me. I liked what he did in Dalian on the surface, but I knew certain large buildings there “belonged” to him, and I didn’t really like the way he was handling stuff in Chongqing (but then again, I know eff all about governing, so I shouldn’t be commenting on stuff I do not know about). Also, everyone knows about the “material showmanship” of his son… *shrug*

However, what has been interesting is that a lot of the “juicy” storytelling seems to be coming from the Western press, not the Chinese ones. All these “sources” saying this and saying that about Bo Xilai, Wife-Bo, Bo Junior, Neil “James Bond” Heyward, etc. Reuters, Bloomberg, the Australian press all seem to have a lot of deep sources to the Bo family out of a sudden – when nothing was heard of earlier or in the good times. Therefore, I wonder if the Western Press aren’t “Mike Daiseying” around with the lot of us… (see, Mike Daiseying is the new hot verb in town, probably soon to be replaced with Bo Xilai-ing…). There are, after all, a lot of gulliable and “simple” (Wang Qishan rocks) people in this world after all… heh…

April 20, 2012 @ 11:32 pm | Comment

“However, what has been interesting is that a lot of the “juicy” storytelling seems to be coming from the Western press, not the Chinese ones. ”

Hmmm, why would that be the case?

April 21, 2012 @ 1:04 am | Comment

@Atticus Dogsbody
Perhaps you’re referring to his father, Ross Garnaut? Not sure what age John is exactly, but pretty sure he would have been a tad young to be showing the flag in China in ’85. Unless the Ozzies were into teenage ambassadors back then?

April 21, 2012 @ 1:58 am | Comment

@TE Low – I’m not saying there aren’t talented, intelligent CCP officials. However, do you really believe that any of the people you’ve mentioned haven’t made non-trivial sums through corrupt practices? Look at Wukan for an example of the negative side of life in Guangdong.

April 21, 2012 @ 4:54 am | Comment

@ GIl:

How do you know they have or haven’t? You seem to have some direct proof that they were / are corrupt, care to share? Or is it just some hearsay you heard?

Also, I always thought the “innocent until proven guilty” was a Western concept. Strange that it doesn’t apply when it comes to Asians, or particularly, China Chinese who also happen to be CCP officials and are holding a prominent post….

April 21, 2012 @ 12:31 pm | Comment

@ Gil

Instead of harping on corruption or the lack thereof, it makes more sense to argue against the root cause of the issue–opacity and lack of accountability in government. It is cold comfort to have angels in government if the system itself is flawed.

April 21, 2012 @ 1:41 pm | Comment

I suppose that’s true. There’s not much “proof” that CCP officials are corrupt…any of them. So I guess we’ll have to presume all CCP officials are “clean” until proven otherwise. In fact, Bo might be a glaring exception, and we do and will have the CCP to thank if and when they are done creating…ummm…I mean tabulating…the evidence of Bo’s corrupt ways. I imagine most netizens and a good number of “old hundred last names” also have no grounds for believing CCP officials to be corrupt. On the other hand, where there is a bunch of smoke, perhaps there is a little bit of fire…

Is every single CCP official corrupt? Probably not. Whew…I feel better already.

April 21, 2012 @ 1:44 pm | Comment

To T-co:
agreed. It seems to me that transparency and authoritarianism are mutually exclusive things. And “accountable authoritarianism” certainly seems like an oxymoron.

April 21, 2012 @ 1:47 pm | Comment

.

中共現在最大的問題是腐敗

高官愛錢如命 不敢開戰爭取領土

事實上所做所為跟 賣國求和 是完全相同的

.

April 21, 2012 @ 7:18 pm | Comment

http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2012-04/21/content_15104781.htm

Always nice to watch them squirm as they try to justify the CCP’s position which sits comfortably between a rock and a hard place. Did the CCP legal and justice system fail before, when a prominent politico and his wife were getting away with corruption and murder right up until one of his underlings had to go to foreign territory (ie the US consulate) in order to safely shed light on those misdeeds? Or is the CCP legal and justice system failing now with the usual kangaroo court song and dance? Ahh, what wonderful choices.

“But the authorities have made it clear that they are investigating a murder and violations of Party disciplines and that the investigations into the homicide of Heywood and Bo’s violations of disciplines will follow proper legal procedures. ”
— well that’s reassuring. Here I was thinking that they haven’t been, and won’t be. I feel so much better already.

“Premier Wen Jiabao promised us a report on the investigation’s findings that “would stand the test of law and history”.”
— and if past history is any guide, I’m sure we can take that to the bank.

“but that does not mean the investigations are politically motivated or an outcome of “political in-fighting”.”
— No, cuz that would never happen…in China…under the CCP. Perish the thought.

April 22, 2012 @ 1:45 pm | Comment

Minor niggle: Consulates and embassies remain sovereign territory of the receiving state. Local police are prevented from entering them without permission as they are inviolable under international treaty.

April 22, 2012 @ 2:26 pm | Comment

The messages sent by Chinese-language and English-language party mouthpieces have converged somewhat, over the past few years. The linked China-Daily article reflects pretty much what is being written at Huanqiu Shibao. Could also be that the topic is so sensitive that editorialists are required to write along a given set of arguments anytime they address the issue.

April 22, 2012 @ 11:31 pm | Comment

The topic being the Bo Xilai issue, that is.

April 22, 2012 @ 11:32 pm | Comment

@JR – Yeah, Sinostand pointed out the same thing with CCTV and the People’s Daily. What’s left of the pre-Olympics promise of a freer, less politicised media? Anything?

April 22, 2012 @ 11:55 pm | Comment

Hi Gil,
yeah, poor word choice on my part. Should’ve said foreign safe haven.

April 23, 2012 @ 6:49 am | Comment

Re corruption. I read a piece somewhere that it is almost necessary (wrong choice of words..bear with me) to indulge in corruption.
As it is, most people enter this line of work for money. Not the wages, but the moneu associated with it. My in laws apparently joined the CCP not because of a love of the international community of the workers but because of guanxi. With that you get progression and, yes, money. Same with rising in the heirarchy of the CCP. The wages are poor, relatively speaking, so you use your position to supplement what you earn. The system encourages it and nothing is done until some examples have to be made to show the system is “clean” (killing the chicken to scare the monkeys, I believe?). How would any of us stay clean in such a system when it is basically encouraged from top down – as a junior you’d almost, I dare say, be told to indulge in some form of corruption for your seniors – the whole system is geared to it. “5000″ years of culture don’t change overnight.
One is innocent until proven guilty, yes, but to be innocent, one actually has to be innocent.

April 23, 2012 @ 7:53 am | Comment

@Mike – Indeed. I wouldn’t go so far as saying every CCP official is corrupt, but since every one of them that I’ve gotten to know at a personal level turned out to be so, I’m not afraid to generalise by saying that the majority of them are. More to the point, since the entire reason why the majority of people join the party nowadays is for personal advancement, and since this is because membership in the party enables people to take part in sharing out coorupt income and influence, I see no problem in saying that corruption is THE thing that keeps the CCP going: it brings people to the party, it allows them to prosper in it, it binds them to the party even if they no longer believe in party rhetoric.

Someone referenced “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” above. This is the standard of proof in criminal courts – but this is a blog thread, not a criminal court, and we are not making definitive statements as to whether certain individuals are or are not corrupt, but merely giving an opinion on the likelihood of politburo members being corrupt. Given what is known (three politburo members charged with corruption in 17 years) you would have to say it is non-trivial. Given what is rumoured (i.e., pretty much all politburo members being corrupt to a large degree) if you choose to believe these rumours – and I by-and-large do – then whilst still keeping reasonable doubts in mind as to individual cases, the rotteness of the politburo, and the party as a whole, is very apparent.

To talk of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ officials in the politburo requires you, therefore, to include people who are likely corrupt as ‘good’ officials. I actually have no problem with this, but let’s not kid ourselves by saying that the ‘good’ officials in the CCP necessarily have clean hands – in all likelihood, they don’t, it’s just that the rumours of their corruption have not been substantiated, and, barring large constitutional changes in China, likely never will be.

April 23, 2012 @ 3:14 pm | Comment

To JR #55,
there is a NYT article today that is completely in step with what you’ve suggested. Namely that the CCP mouthpieces have the propaganda machine in overdrive, and their distinguished and highly classy work-product has become mandatory for re-broadcast and re-publication in all manner of newsies far and wide. It’s the beatification of Bo Xilai, CCP style. But carried out with the same zeal and vigour as one would expect from the Vatican.

April 24, 2012 @ 2:48 pm | Comment

The silence of the trolls on this one has been remarkable.

I wonder if they’re being paid to refrain from posting.

April 25, 2012 @ 4:44 pm | Comment

Jim – Nah, they were quiet at first, but now the official line has come out they’ve already started with their favourite (“evil western media”) and moved on to some other classics (“the west is just as bad/worse”, “this was caused by foreigners” etc.).

April 26, 2012 @ 3:19 pm | Comment

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