Thursday, 12 April 2012

A Death In Chongqing


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 they involve the death of a laowai and that they 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.

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]

10 comments:

Matthew Franklin Cooper said...

Wow, FOARP. I just looked outside to check for signs of airborne porcine lifeforms, because I never thought I'd actually find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with one of your posts. Here, though, I think you're pretty much dead-on - though I wouldn't say at all that you do not have much to add to the analysis.

My one bone of contention - and it's really more of a hair-width fish bone than anything else - is that in China it is very possible to keep trial proceedings out of broad circulation even when they are controversial or if the public has a strong interest in the outcome. I daren't be as optimistic about Ms 'Bo Gu' Kailai's fate as you seem to be allowing for, though I grant you that the CCP may be expected to wrap things up with as little fuss as possible.

justrecently said...

It's a bit strange to see William Hague express his delight about the re-investigation - it's quite possible that Heywood's death came from natural causes on the one hand, and if the re-investigation determines otherwise, one may wonder how credible the finding would be. I agree with Mr. Cooper - either a confirmation of the original finding or a reversal (i. e. stating that Heywood got killed) is possible.

I doubt that the re-investigation's first concern will be to establish facts.

FOARP said...

Or even to make any investigation at all.

FOARP said...

Young Master Cooper, does it really surprise you to find yourself in agreement with a fellow language-phile educated in a Church of England school?

At any rate, the moment when they could have done away with Madame Bo has passed. A trial now would be an updated version of Gang of Four cases - to big to do in private, and anyway the prupose of the proceedings is to wreck their public image. At least it seems unlikely that they would dislocate their jaws to prevent them from speaking as they did with the Gang of Four.

@JR - Yup - the appropriate reaction would be scepticism, but Hague could hardly react in a different fashion. Of course this could still turn in a different direction - the rumours about Heywood being linked to MI6 could easily be given credence by the CCP and the Bo case excused as the result of a foreign plot.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think your warning to foreigners not to work in any Chinese government organ is a bit over the top?
That British chap who died in Chongqing was a businessman, why not warn people against doing business in China?
I happen to know people who work for China Radio International, and the idea that they might be in danger has never occurred to either me or them.

FOARP said...

"Don't you think your warning to foreigners not to work in any Chinese government organ is a bit over the top?"

No.

"That British chap who died in Chongqing was a businessman, why not warn people against doing business in China? "

He was a business man who reportedly carrying on with the wife of a major Chinese official whilst helping them launder money. Or maybe he wasn't, but just go mixed up with the wrong people - and it is "getting mixed up with the wrong people" that I am warning against here.

There are plenty among the expat consulterati who believe that they can play the influence game and come away with clean hands - but if the people you have close relations with fall into official disfavour, then you too suffer. Your passport is no shield.

"I happen to know people who work for China Radio International, and the idea that they might be in danger has never occurred to either me or them."

I also know people who work for CRI, friends who were aware that there were drawbacks to working for CRI but who thought it worth the risk anyway. This was their choice.

If, however, your friends have never had any idea that there might be negative consequences to working for the propaganda arm of a dictatorship they need their heads examining. Or, at the very least, they should go and read about what happened to Richard Burger after he exposed various goings-on at Global Times.

Ji Xiang said...

Pardon my ingnorance, but what happened to Richard Burger?

I had a look at the Peking Duck, and I found the post in which he denounces how the Global Times dealt with Ai Wei Wei, however I can't find any posts in which he desrcibes the consequences of this. I can see he no longer works for them. I am supposing they got rid of him.

He seems to be still blogging away happily. He certainly hasn't been accused of espionage or imprisoned. Has he been deported? I can't even find any evidence of that.

If all that happened to him was losing his job after openly denouncing the paper over how it covered an issue like that, I think it shows how working for the Chinese state media is not dangerous at all.

But if you have any information about bad stuff which happened to this Richard Burger as a consequence of his expose', please share, I am curious.

FOARP said...

@Ji Xiang - First up, sory your comments got spammed. For some reason straight-up trolls like Mongol Warrior seem to get through, but legit comments get held in the spam queue.

"Pardon my ingnorance"

Consider it pardoned.

"If all that happened to him was losing his job after openly denouncing the paper over how it covered an issue like that, I think it shows how working for the Chinese state media is not dangerous at all."

Firstly "dangerous" was the word you used - I never said it. I said it could have negative comments. Clearly, in Richard Burger's case, it did.

Secondly, if your choice of employers is dictated by only working for the ones which aren't openly physically dangerous to work for, you're going to have an interesting career. Us mere mortals consider being smeared and made persona non grata simply for reporting - accurately - that a Chinese state media outlet was engaging in astroturfing in order to further smear the name of an apparently innocent man being held under arrest without charge to be quite enough to stop us wanting to work for the Chinese state media.

But then why don't you just email Richard Burger and ask him what he thinks?

Ji Xiang said...

No worries about my comment being spammed.

In any case it seems to me you're backtracking a bit on the statement you made in your initial post, which definitely seemed to imply that working for the CCP is dangerous, especially when you go on about being accused of spying and your government not helping you.

I maintain that just working for the Chinese government is certainly far safer than crossing the road in Beijing.

No doubt if you work for a Chinese state organ and then publicly denounce it while still in China, you are asking for trouble of some kind. Anyone who thought otherwise would have to be very naive indeed. I suppose Richard Burger wasn't naive, but took a calculated risk to defend his principles, and good for him.

FOARP said...

"it seems to me you're backtracking a bit on the statement you made in your initial post, which definitely seemed to imply that working for the CCP is dangerous, especially when you go on about being accused of spying and your government not helping you."

Maybe my point in saying that wasn't clear enough. My point was that in reality simply being a foreign citizen isn't much protection against injust attention from the CCP.

The reason for this is demonstrated by my example - unless it is strongly in the national interest of your home country, your government will not expend influence in trying to help you, not least because this would likely encourage further injustices. Hence the odd situation where a falsely-accused spy remains in jail, whilst a real spy will be exchanged.