Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Thoughts of China for after its 2012 power transitions 3: setting the stage for 2013 – 2

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on November 1, 2012

This is my third installment in a series, in which I seek to outline and discuss some of the challenges that China’s new leadership will face as it assumes power coming out of the 18th Party Congress, with that transition formally beginning in the autumn of 2012.

I began this series in Part 1 with a general discussion of some of China’s long-growing and more intractable structural challenges that simply continue to grow from lack of effective response to them. And towards the end of that posting and continuing on in Part 2, I began a discussion of some of the immediate, acute challenges that China’s Communist Party and system of government face, damaging credibility as Party and government approach their once every ten years National Party Congress.

I began that with a brief and I add selective discussion of a family tragedy in which the pampered son of one of China’s Party princes died and under scandalous circumstances in a car crash. And this was picked up upon, and not by the official news agency, Xinhua but rather by members of the general public with their seemingly ubiquitous cell phones and cell phone cameras – and social media outlets they could post to. The photos and accompanying text narratives were taken off-line within hours and even references to just Ferrari automobiles were taken down in frantic reaction to this, but the damage to credibility had already been done and China was witness to yet another privileged princeling scandal.

I pick up on this general discussion here with a seemingly separate story. But I will argue the case that the distance between this second story and the first I made note of is narrow at most. And this time the story I would address is that of Bo Xilai and his political downfall.

As of today, and I am actually writing this on September 27, 2012 and a bit over a month ahead of its going live to this blog, Bo has been kept in seclusion and apart from any legal challenge or action.

• His wife, Gu Kailai has been tried and convicted for the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood. She was given a deferred death sentence that with good behavior in prison can be changed to a life sentence after two years. But the threat of this sentence being carried out can be considered an effective muzzle against her speaking out or trying to and in any way, until well after the soon to begin power transition in China’s leadership.
• Bo’s now former police chief and right hand man, Wang Lijun has been tried and convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
• Others have been tried coming out of this, but Bo Xilai himself is out of sight and out of the news. And Bo Xilai is the fourth son of Bo Yibo, one of the most revered figures in Chinese Communist Party history. And his own life story is intertwined with those of many of the current and likely incoming members of China’s ruling Politburo Standing Committee. Like Ling Jihua and his son Ling Gu as noted in Part 2, Bo Yibo and his son Bo Xilai are among modern China’s privileged princes and members of its perhaps informal but nevertheless very real Crown Prince Party.

One of the structural problems I noted in Part 2 of this series is the inequality of access to legal rights and to legal representation in the courts that most Chinese citizens face, where a privileged few receive special treatment and all else receive much less. One of the principle goals of China’s current and outgoing, and new and incoming supreme leadership over the past few years has been to present China as a modern and effective country and as having overcome its problems of the past. And one of the issues that has irked and bothered its leadership has been claims of human rights violations and of lack of protection and rights under its system of law.

Gu Kailai and Wang Lijun were both denied the right to select their own attorneys, and attorneys aligned with the prosecution were assigned to their cases, and without their having any say in this. “Their” attorneys were denied access to any of the evidence that would be brought out against their clients. And the way these trials were conducted it was clear that the only outcomes possible were convictions and the only real question was one of how they would be sentenced. Both could have been given death sentences and quickly executed, both could have been given deferred death sentences which means sentences of life imprisonment, literally with a gun to the back of their heads to ensure silence. Both could have been given lengthy prison sentences. And any prison sentence in which the convicted survives can mean eventual official rehabilitation and release, and even return to power and prominence.

I fully expect Bo Xilai to be tried at some point and to be convicted. And that then after a suitable waiting period he will be declared rehabilitated and brought back into the fold. His trial might very well take place between the writing of this posting and the date at which it goes live to this blog. He is not going to be given a death sentence and executed.

I am going to finish this posting with a final set of observations and thoughts, and they go back to Mao Zedong and his excesses and the disasters be brought upon China with his Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution just two of the more visible low points.

When Mao was repudiated for his failings, he himself was left unnamed in all of that and relatively unscathed. His last wife, Jiang Qing, and others were given show trials as the Gang of Four. China’s current generations of leadership have been working very hard to distance themselves from this side of their Party’s and country’s past. Now the trials of Bo Xilai’s counterpart to a “gang of four” are taking place literally right before their 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and the parallels are stunning and cannot be ignored – are not being ignored in China itself. And China’s princes and princelings are special and privileged, and receive special treatment and nothing has really changed. That is the lesson, intended and desired, or otherwise that this complex of scandals carries forward.

Gu Kailai is said to have poisoned a foreign national in his hotel room when he is said to have threatened her son. There is scandal in that, that would have blown over and disappeared from the news and from public attention as new news stories caught the public eye. Wang Lijun, a powerful figure in Chongqing sought to defect to a United States Consulate and that is a scandal – which would have also simply become yesterday’s news. China’s official handling of all of this, and of the larger set of issues revolving around their prince, Bo Xilai have given all of this new and deeper meaning and staying power. So if anything, this is a self-inflicted wound, by China’s leadership and on China’s leadership and on their Party, on their legal system, and upon their system of governance as a whole.

I am going to turn to the issues of China’s current economic slowdown in my next series installment, and will discuss recent factory worker strikes among other issues that challenge China as it goes into its power transition. Meanwhile, you can find this posting and related at Macroeconomics and Business and I also recommend reviewing the postings and series concerning this that are listed in Part 1.

Postscript, added September 30, 2012:
One of the primary concerns that China’s supreme leadership has right now, and certainly in its Party leadership is damage control as the opening of their 18th National Party Congress fast approaches. Current distractions, as created by Bo Xilai and his family and immediate colleagues are precisely the types of news that will in effect be swept under the rug and made to disappear. On September 28, Bo Xilai was officially and formally expelled from the Communist Party of China. And it was also officially announced at that press conference that he will face criminal charges. It is uncertain precisely what those charges will specify, though an official vilification campaign is now underway with accusations that his criminal behavior has gone on for years. The official starting date for the 18th National Party Congress has been publically set as November 8 of this year. I expect Bo to be kept out of sight until after this event has concluded. And then he will face formal and selectively public trial proceedings.

I am writing in this series of extremely timely and topical issues but at the same time this series addresses longer term forces and their consequences that will only really come to a head for China’s new leaders after their Party Congress and after they have fully completed their transitions to power in 2013. So I have decided not to push these series postings ahead in my publications queue, leaving them to go live in the order written. But I will at least over the next week or so, add to this series at a faster rate than I was initially planning, with that November 8 start date in mind.

One Response

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  1. piracetam said, on November 6, 2012 at 6:57 am

    The weeklong Party Congress kicks off next Nov. 8, and the new Politburo Standing Committee will be unveiled at the end of the gathering. The panel has nine members; seven are expected to retire. The two holdovers are Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang; Xi is slated to assume the top position of party secretary from Hu, while Li may take on the role held by Premier Wen Jiabao.


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