Bo Xilai and the Coup that Wasn’t: More Post-Mortems

With a few more days space having gone by, more writers have chipped in with opinions on what we can learn from the event and the subsequent non-event. From Caixin Online:

Even after the fall of the Gang of Four, in 1976, China struggled for a time before finding the right path to development. The decision on reform and opening up was reached at the third plenary session of the Eleventh Central Committee in 1978 and was affirmed by the resolution.

No one can refute this decision. No matter how difficult the project of reform has been, China cannot turn back. The painful lessons of history are too raw.

Today, the multiple frustrations of daily life are feeding into public discontent, which can easily turn into mob rage. We’ve seen how, during the Cultural Revolution, ambitious politicians and fanatical populism ended up destroying civilization. Just recently, Vice President Xi Jinping warned in an essay against party cadres who play to the crowd for personal gain. History cautions us that regression for China would be dangerous. It reminds leaders of their responsibility to press on with reforms – they must face up to problems and win people’s support for reforms.

Political reform is not frightening. Reform should be gradual but firm. Two tasks in the government’s work report directly relate to political reform: to hasten administrative reform and enhance measures to fight corruption. Both hold the key to a breakthrough in reform progress. The government must, as Wen pledged, press on.

The Communist Party will soon hold its 18th party congress, where some progress on promoting intra-party democracy is expected, including competitive elections. The recent political events underline the urgency of political reform. It is time for a responsible government to act.

From the LA Times:

Jin Zhong, a veteran political analyst based in Hong Kong, dismissed the more fantastic rumors, while acknowledging the underlying tension between economic reformers and Maoist traditionalists.

“It hasn’t reached the point where you are going to hear gunshots. It is not like when China arrested the Gang of Four in 1976, but there is a very strong conflict going on,” Jin said.

Zhou had been a strong supporter of Bo’s law-and-order campaigns in Chongqing, where thousands were swept up in a gang-busting dragnet and retirees had been gathering in a public park for now-banned patriotic singing and dancing. According to Jin, Zhou made several visits to the Chongqing delegation at the recently concluded National People’s Congress, fighting for Bo’s political future until the very end.

Like most of China’s senior leaders, the 70-year-old Zhou is due to retire at the 18th party congress in October. Until recently, Bo was thought to be a likely replacement. Jin said he doubted that Zhou would be removed from the Standing Committee because he is already set to leave.

“They won’t touch anybody on the Standing Committee before the congress. It is too risky. They’ve put in a big effort trying to present a picture of stability,” Jin said.

From Jerome Cohen:

Many Chinese legal experts took grim satisfaction at Bo Xilai’s removal from office as Party leader of Chongqing. Bo, after all, had created nostalgia for the national nightmare that was the Cultural Revolution, a decade-long, lawless trampling on the lives of over one hundred million people. Even more obnoxious to Chinese law reformers was Bo’s endorsement of Chongqing police, prosecutors and judges who violated the rights of suspects while pursuing his highly-publicized campaign to snuff out alleged Mafia and corruption. Bo and his henchman, public security chief Wang Lijun, subjected detainees to hideous torture, coerced confessions and unfair trials, also intimidating and punishing defense lawyers.

The central government’s public response to those blatant illegalities was virtually nil. Yet the mysterious halting in mid-trial of a second prosecution against lawyer Li Zhuang, who had already been convicted and imprisoned for supposedly instigating false testimony by claiming that his alleged Mafia client had been tortured, may have signaled Beijing’s impatience with Chongqing justice. That second case had evoked unusual protests from prestigious lawyers, law professors and others.

What Chinese criminal justice urgently needs is a reformer with the power, energy, vision, ability, personality and determination of a Zhu Rongji, the former Prime Minister who in the late 1990s saw the need to transform the traditional socialist economy and, through relentless effort, brought it about.

Is there such a leader on China’s horizon? Communist officials do not reach the apex of their system by advocating human rights and criminal justice, and none would show his hand before attaining power. Khruschev’s introduction of “de-Stalinization” in 1956 stunned many observers who, before his ascension, had mistaken him as Stalin’s “running dog”.

This may be the unrecognized tragedy of Bo Xilai. Before turning Chongqing into a “leftist” base for his ascent, Bo had impressed foreign observers with his intelligence, education and sophistication. Had his risky campaign succeeded, he might have seen that China’s new stage of development requires not a return to Maoism but greater respect for the rule of law, and seized the opportunity to play an historic role by doing for criminal justice what Zhu Rongji did for the economy. Surely, Bo had the charisma and boldness required to mobilize both bureaucratic and public support for this momentous change.

Far-fetched? Remember, it was Richard Nixon, the arch anti-communist, who had the foresight, nerve and political freedom to move toward the future by traveling to what he earlier called “Red China”. Sometimes, cynical politicians become statesmen – if they reach the top.

Although yeah, still kinda far-fetched.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai

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