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|News Analysis: Bo’s Big fall from Grace||| Print ||
|May / June 2012|
The Bo scandal inflicts a body blow to China’s “Gang of Princelings” and strengthens the Hu Jintao Faction, writes Willy Lam.
That Bo Xilai’s political life is finished was apparent to all even before the announcement in early April that his membership in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee and Politburo had been suspended.
What is not so well known is that the charismatic Chongqing party secretary’s downfall has dealt a body blow to one of the most important CCP Factions: the Gang of Princelings, or sons and daughters of party elders and senior cadres.
Throughout his career, Bo, 62, has consistently denied that either he or his lawyer wife, Gu Kailai, 51, had made large profits from “extracurricular” business deals. The authorities have announced, however, that the couple is under investigation for a host of crimes, including complicity in the death of British national Neil Heywood, who was a business partner of Ms Gu’s. Heywood apparently played a role in helping the Bos launder part of their personal fortune – said to be worth 8 billion yuan – overseas. It is also understood that the Bos are accused of corruption-related felonies.
Moreover, it is clear even to ordinary Chinese folks that the Bos were able to build up a huge fortune – and to send their son Bo Guagua to private schools and colleges in Britain and the US – thanks to their status as princelings. Bo is the son of revolutionary hero Bo Yibo, while Gu’s father was a general in the People’s Liberation Army.
Bo, who is a leader of the Gang of Princelings, has run afoul of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao for scheming to get into the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) – China’s highest council – by launching a so-called changhong (“singing red songs”) campaign to resuscitate Maoist-era norms. A new PBSC is due to be established at the pivotal 18th CCP Congress due this October.
While political reform in China has been put on the backburner since the June 4, 1989 crackdown, Chinese citizens’ knowledge about the basics of democracy has increased dramatically. Tolerance for the Chinese equivalent of “aristocratic privileges” has gone down.
That is why the sons and daughters of contemporary Chinese leaders ranging from ex-president Jiang Zemin and ex-premier Zhu Rongji to President Hu and Premier Wen have all chosen business instead of party or government-related careers.
Even so, the reputation of all four top cadres has been dented due to widespread popular perception that their sons and daughters have made a killing in the commercial world using connections that are only available to the offspring of presidents and premiers.
Indeed, it was none other than Deng Xiaoping, the father of the Era of Reform, who indicated in a closed-door party conference in the early 1980s that the children of top cadres should avoid seeking senior party jobs.
Both of Deng’s sons – Deng Pufang and Deng Zhifang – are businessmen, not politicians. Deng Zhifang, who is dogged by corruption-related innuendo, is thought to be spending most of his time in the US.
Political sources in Beijing said that with Bo in utter disgrace, the Gang of Princelings might end up with only two affiliates in the nine-member PBSC to be formed this autumn. They are Vice-President Xi Jinping, who will succeed Hu as party General Secretary and State President; and Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, who will be promoted Executive Vice-Premier.
In this case, the overall clout of the Princelings may be on the wane despite the 58-year-old Xi’s ascendancy to China’s top job.
Moreover, two “military princelings” who are known to be close friends of Bo’s – senior PLA officers Generals Liu Yuan and Zhang Haiyang – may suffer collateral political damage. Gen Liu is the Political Commissar in the General Logistics Department, while Gen Zhang is the Political Commissar of the Second Artillery or Missiles Corp.
Gen Liu, who is the son of the first state president Liu Shaoqi, is also close to Vice-President Xi. Before the Bo scandal broke, Gen Liu was considered a hot favorite for promotion to the key position of Director of the General Political Department of the PLA.
The biggest beneficiary of the demise of Bo – and the collective damage done to the princelings’ reputation – is President Hu, who heads the Communist Youth League (CYL) Faction, the largest clique within the CCP.
With at least three affiliates due to be inducted into the PBSC – Executive Vice-President Li Keqiang (who is slated to become prime minister), Director of the Department of Organization Li Yuanchao, and Guangdong Party Secretary Wang Yang – the CYL Faction may retain its dominance dispute the retirement of Hu from the Politburo.
Also significant is the fact that princelings are thinly represented among Six-Generation leaders, a reference to cadres born in the 1960s. The majority of the senior Six-Generation officials are either members of the CYL Faction or government technocrats with proletariat roots.
Two CYL Faction affiliates, Inner Mongolia Party Secretary Hu Chunhua and Hunan Party Secretary Zhou Qiang, are tipped to be inducted into the Politburo as ordinary members at the 18th CCP Congress.
The 48-year-old Hu Chunhua (who is not related to President Hu) is considered a potential further party General Secretary. Zhou, 51, a former First Secretary of the CYL, is expected to secure Bo’s old post of Chongqing Party Secretary soon after the 18th Party Congress. ■