“Bo’s Ides of March”

Chovanec adds his take on Wang Lijun, Bo Xilai, and the future of the Chongqing model:

In events such as today’s, the temptation is to look solely at the proximate (or immediate) cause. The proximate cause of Bo’s downfall was last month’s “Wang Lijun Incident,” where a top lieutenant of Bo’s, apparently under corruption investigation, sought refuge in the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu (near Chongqing, in southwest China) before leaving the consulate and being placed under arrest. The exact circumstances, and the extent of Bo’s involvement, still remain something of a mystery. But the important thing is, the incident cast a shadow on Bo, and that shadow fell on already fertile ground. Whatever the real truth of the incident, it became a weapon in the hands of his enemies. The real cause of Bo’s downfall were the distrust and resentment that gave rise to so many enemies.

And those enemies were powerful. It’s no coincidence that just days after the Wang Lijun Incident, prominent Chinese academics were coming out publicly, saying that Bo Xilai’s career and the entire “Chongqing Model” were finished — they wouldn’t have blast such a senior Party leader, a Politburo member, without protection and encouragement from very high up. It’s no coincidence, either, that He Guoqiang, the man in charge of internal Party discipline, greeted the Chongqing NPC delegation with a warning that “the current weather in Chongqing is very different from that in Beijing” and urged them to “mind their own health.”

Bo’s real problem wasn’t liberal critics or sports cars or even turncoat lieutenants — although these became convenient nails in his coffin. Plenty of Chinese officials, snug in their patronage networks, have survived (or even shrugged off) far worse. The Party takes care of its own. But top Party leaders, regardless of political philosophy, had come to dislike Bo, not as a person per se — by all accounts, Bo is an extraordinarily charming man — but as a political persona, at least in his Chongqing incarnation, for three reasons:

First, they were offended by his courting of the media and his vigorous self-promotion, which showed a lack of appropriate deference and humility to established power channels and ways of resolving competition. Second, they felt threatened, because few of them were equipped to compete on this basis, if that’s what it took. Third, they were alarmed by Bo’s tactic of “mobilizing the masses” in ways that explicitly invoked the Cultural Revolution, which called up deep-seated fears that populist fervor could be used as a weapon against rival leaders within the Party — as indeed happened during the Cultural Revolution, to horrific results.

Good analysis, as always.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai

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