Bloomberg: How Low Can Bo Go?
I was on Bloomberg yesterday, sharing some thoughts on the big political drama unfolding in Beijing. And drama it truly is — on the order of All the King’s Men or Macbeth. You can watch my comments here. You can also read some additional comments I made in an AFP article here.
As most readers of this blog will already know, Bo Xilai — the charismatic politician who nurtured ambitious hopes of joining the Party’s 9-man ruling circle next Fall, before the aborted defection of a disaffected lieutenant over to the Americans led to his abrupt dismissal as Party chief of Chongqing last month — was just as abruptly purged from his remaining Party positions on Tuesday night. But the real shocker — almost too bizarre to be believed — was the arrest of Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, on charges of murdering (poisoning, no less!) a British expat who had served as a long-time business confidant of the family.
The New York Times reports that efforts to cover up the murder led to an angry split with Bo’s police chief, Wang Lijun, prompting Wang to seek refuge in the U.S. consulate in Chengdu and — supposedly — hand the Americans a treasure trove of information on China’s internal power struggles. Wang was arrested by Chinese security forces upon leaving the consulate, and hasn’t been seen since. If that wasn’t enough, Xu Ming, a billionaire business tycoon with close ties to Bo, vanished without a trace nearly a month ago, and is presumed to be in the hands of Chinese investigators.
Earlier yesterday, Robert Kuhn, the author of How China’s Leaders Think, also appeared on Bloomberg to talk about the Bo saga. You can watch what he had to say here. While I agree with him that Bo’s ouster is unlikely to threaten the Communist Party’s hold on power or lead to broader instability, I don’t agree that the whole thing can be dismissed as merely a “personal issue” that has “no great political significance.” Imagine, if you will, what would happen in America or Europe if a leading political figure were suddenly forced from office after one of his top aides tried to defect to the Chinese, and his wife was arrested for murder, amid stories of abuse of power and financial misdeeds — it’s kind of like Profumo, Berlusconi, and Vince Foster all rolled into one. The political order would probably hold together, but it would sure shake things up.
For additional reading, here are two fascinating articles about Neil Heywood, the alleged murder victim, one in the Wall Street Journal and the other in the New York Times. You can also check out this very interesting article from the Los Angeles Times about how people in Chongqing — where Bo was apparently quite popular — are reacting to his dramatic reversal of fortune.
Many readers, I’m sure, already know that I made another appearance on Bloomberg earlier this week where I made some rather controversial remarks about the Chinese economy. I intend to post that link, but I wanted to offer some context in the way of some facts, figures, and personal observations that informed my comments. I’m hoping to have that up shortly.