China’s leaders want Bo Xilai’s downfall seen as a blow against corruption – not as part of a power struggle. But with a second, even higher-ranking Politburo member now suspected to be under pressure, it will become difficult to avoid the perception of all-out infighting.
Moves against Zhou Yongkang, China’s security chief, could undermine attempts to portray the Bo scandal as a fight to uphold the rule of law and would reinforce a skeptical public’s view that the Communist Party is in disarray months before a once-a-decade transfer of power to new leaders.
“Internally, the power struggle is getting more intense and, if true, Zhou’s removal would be seriously damaging,” Beijing-based political analyst Li Fan said.
Zhou, 72, is widely reported to have been the only leading official to have argued against last week’s striking decision to suspend Bo’s membership in the 25-seat Politburo – a step that effectively ended the political career of one of China’s most ambitious and high-profile politicians.
Bo’s removal has fueled cynicism among ordinary Chinese, leading to a flood of rumors and speculation – much of it online – about political feuding among the leaders and even attempted coups. Taking down Zhou would only reinforce such views, said Joseph Cheng, who heads the Contemporary China Research Center at the City University of Hong Kong.
“It furthers the perception that all cadres are corrupt and all corruption investigations are political,” said Cheng, who believes Hu would prefer to sidestep further conflict by allowing Zhou to retire after this fall’s party congress as originally expected.
The only way the Bo Xilai affair could get any better is if it spells an end to Zhou Yongkang as well. Don’t let me down, Boxun.