Tag Archives: Wang Lijun

Wang Fingers His Former Boss, Bo

The trial of ex-Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun has implicated for the first time the city’s disgraced Party boss Bo Xilai in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Bo was not mentioned by name. Wang spoke of the “Chongqing committee’s main responsible person at the time”, but that would be Bo.

Wang was “angrily rebuked and had his ears boxed,” state media reported somewhat quaintly, for telling Bo that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was suspected of murdering Heywood, a crime to which Gu pleaded guilty at her trial last month. Wang also told the court of corruption cases involving close business associates of Bo.

Wang’s remarks brings a criminal prosecution of Bo a step closer, either for complicity in covering up Heywood’s death, or on politically more sensitive corruption charges. Either way a trial would complete the political downfall of a charismatic but divisive leader who only a few months ago had been seen as a leading candidate for promotion to the Politburo.

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Wang Lijun’s trial seeks to tidy up another loose end in the Bo case

Swift and measured justice is the order of the day in political China. Next week, Wang Lijun, 52, the former police chief and hatchet man for disgraced Chongqing party boss, Bo Xilai, will go on trial in Chengdu on charges of defection, taking bribes and legal surveillance.

The hearing isn’t likely to last more than a day. Not a lot of new detail will emerge.

Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February, staying there for 24 hours and starting the chain of events that let to Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, being convicted for the murder of British businessmen Neil Heywood. State media has not said whether Wang intends to contest any of the charges against him–as Gu did not against hers–not that doing so would necessary reduce his chances of being convicted.

Bribery charges can be capital offenses and defection charges can carry life imprisonment. The Party leadership will want to maintain the narrative that it has been laying down, that this is a self-contained case and not one symptomatic of a deeper malaise within the Chinese body politic. Gu received a suspended death sentence last month after confessing to Heywood’s murder but going along with the Party line. Wang is likely to do the same.

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Reading Between The Lines Of The Official Bo Xilai Narrative

There are three aspects to a leadership transition, a well-connected Chinese economist told this Bystander: the personal and factional jockeying for power; the ideological/directional debates; and the exceptional cases. The downfall of Bo Xilai, now stripped of all his Party posts, falls into the third category, she reckons, though it clearly cuts across the first two.

The new left–the neo-Comms and Maoist revivalists, among whose number Bo was counted–have been put on the back foot by Bo’s ousting. The relatively small number of places in the new Politburo and its all-important standing committee, the inner sanctum of Party power, have likely been already broadly decided, but the reformers should now be able to put more of their supporters into key positions in the bureaucracy and provincial government. The neo-Comms and Maoist revivalists have not necessarily lost the ideological debate, or at least not definitely. Bo was both a populist and popular. Support for his ideas persists both among the public and within the Party, if not sufficient to save his political career.

There is likely to be a show of consensus, however. Top Party leaders will seek to keep a tight grip on the judicial investigation into Bo, his wife Gu Kailai and the former head of the Chongqing police, Wang Lijun, whose visit to the U.S. consulate triggered this incident, and where, it now emerges, the first accusation was made that British businessman and Bo family associate, Neil Heyward, had been murdered, with Gu and a family employee involved.

What needs watching is how the official narrative of Bo and his wife is played out. State media are starting to lay down the exceptional-case story, and emphasizing that no Party member, their spouse or family is above the law, even if that family is a princeling–or, more particularly to our eye, that even a princeling family isn’t above the law if it embarrasses the Party or puts political stability at risk .

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Seek And Ye Shall Not Find

Xinhua English Service, Most Searched Terms, 22 Mar 2012

This Bystander was amused to see the most searched-for terms on Xinhua’s English-language service today (screen-grab above). Clicking on the names of the three individuals listed yields no information more recent than a week old. We can only assume that nothing of interest has happened to them since.

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Bo’s Sacking Doesn’t Free China Of Its Leadership Dilemma

The sacking of Bo Xilai as Party boss in Chongqing brings a spectacular halt to his political career, regardless of what has physically happened to him now, still unknown. Bo’s hoped of promotion to the top rung of the party when it changes its leadership later this year had been on the line since last month when his former close ally, Chongqing’s former police chief, Wang Lijun, tried to defect to the U.S. Wang is currently under investigation and has now been sacked as Chongqing’s vice-mayor, too. Bo may well now follow him in falling under investigation.

Wang’s was the iron fist that cracked down on organized crime and on businessmen and local officials accused of being corrupt by Bo’s administration in Chongqing, which was also marked by its prominent use of nostalgic Maoist era ‘red’ propaganda. The high-profile, popularist Bo was seen as a figurehead for the faction within the Party that wanted to revert to more traditional political means of asserting the Party’s legitimacy to rule. Wang Yang, the Guangdong party chief, is seen as representing the faction leaning towards more economic and political openness. The two men were seen as rivals for promotion to the Politburo’s standing committee, the inner sanctum of the Party’s leadership, later this year. How Bo’s sacking affects that ideological divide, beyond the obvious implications that he himself is gone for now, will take some time to become clear–not that that will stop the speculation.

The factional fault lines within the Party are complex, even within the princelings, the elite collective dynasty of some 400 families descended from Mao’s revolutionary leaders that holds extensive sway over the Party, government, business and the military. Factional alliances exist among those who want to develop a more harmonious form of capitalism with a strong safety net, a narrowing of the wealth gap and more environmental protections; harder line economic reformers who want to diminish the power of the public sector and open up political reforms to embrace a new propertied class; the so-called neo-comms, who want to asset China’s global power through cultural diplomacy, military strength and taking a greater role in international institutions; and some deeply entrenched vested interests who see themselves losing from any change.

Speaking at a press conference after the conclusion of the annual parliamentary session, but at a time when the decision to sack Bo would have been made, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said that “the Chongqing authorities must seriously reflect on and draw lessons from the Wang Lijun incident”. Wen also said that China needed not only economic reform but also political structural reform, especially the reform of the leadership system of the Party and the government, warning of another Cultural Revolution if they did not happen. Wen has often spoken of the need for such political reform. He has not publicly warned in such dramatic terms of the consequences of failing to undertake it. That gave plenty of scope to those who speculated that the factional differences within the upper echelons of the Party were deeper than had been thought. And it reinforces our view that the Party faces its most important leadership transition in the three decades since Deng Xioaping set it and China on the road of economic reform.

The dilemma is this: If the Party’s legitimacy to monopolistic rule depends on continuing to deliver the economic growth that keeps its citizens getting richer and the country stronger, and if China’s rapid economic growth cannot continue beyond a certain point without institutional reform, as economic history suggests, then managing the role of government in the economy and overcoming state-owned vested interests–in other words reforming itself–becomes the new leadership’s most important concern.

If, however, the Party’s legitimacy to monopolistic rule rests on an ideological footing, the mandate of Mao, it will still need to forge a statist economy that can deliver the economic development to ensure social stability and regional clout, and gamble it can defy economic history by becoming the world’s first developed economy and single-party state. So, again, managing the role of government in the economy but arbitrating between state-owned vested interests becomes the new leadership’s most important concern, and one made more complex by having to operate against a back-drop of a globally connected economy in a world that is already wary of China’s perceived mercantilism, rising power and status.

Who now gets promoted from the Politburo to its standing committee, and how they rank, will reveal to some extent how that great divide liea, and thus how China develops over the next decisive decade. Bo’s sacking tilts the scale towards the economic reforms, but it would be a fool who thought that the scale had tipped decisively. And it would also be wise to remember that all those jockeying for position are united in preserving the Party’s grip on power.

Footnote: Zhang Dejiang, a vice-premier and Politburo veteran who is a North Korea expert and has a reputation for maintaining strict social stability, takes over from Bo in Chongqing. He was Party secretary in Guangdong from 2002 to 2007, taking over just before the SARS outbreak and was criticized for his tardy response to the epidemic.

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