Post-Bo loyalty drive may stifle
China reforms By Willy Lam
The shock downfall of Chongqing party
secretary Bo Xilai has shattered the Chinese
Communist Party's (CCP) facade of unity and
stability. The past fortnight has witnessed a
plethora of rumors about a failed coup d'etat
supposedly masterminded by Bo in conjunction with
Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) member Zhou
Yongkang, a former party boss of Sichuan who has
close links with the charismatic princeling.
Other wild stories claimed that Bo had
tried to boost his standing within the People's
Liberation Army (PLA) by promoting ties with the
Chengdu Military Region. Also enjoying massive
circulation in China's cyber-space are unconfirmed
reports that Bo had with the help of former
Chongqing Police chief Wang Lijun tried to bug the
conversations of several PBSC members. While the
great majority of these tales and innuendo seem to
be off the mark, they do confirm serious ills in
China's body politic.
This is despite
efforts by the leadership under President Hu
Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to shore up
stability in the run-up to the
18th CCP Congress, which
will witness a wholesale changing of the guard.
First, the apparent unity among the CCP's
disparate cliques is skin-deep and the age-old
"anti-corruption card" is still the weapon of
choice in factional skullduggery and
back-stabbing. Second, military involvements in
the party's internal schisms cannot be ruled out.
Despite the sores exposed by Bo's shenanigans, it
is doubtful whether the party elite will heed
Premier Wen's repeated calls for genuine political
An internal party paper, which was
circulated among cadres after Bo's ouster from his
Chongqing job, partially has confirmed suggestions
that the 62-year-old princeling is being
investigated for alleged "economic crimes". The
document said Bo relieved his protege Wang Lijun -
once known as a "national anti-triad hero" - of
his police duties after being told that Wang's
underlings were looking into the
corruption-related activities of his close kin.
Tension between Bo and Wang became so
intense that Wang, who was himself under
investigation for offenses he allegedly committed
when he was a police officer in Liaoning province,
tried to seek political asylum at the US.
Consulate in Chengdu on February 6.
Kong papers have reported Bo was in cahoots with
the powerful PBSC member Zhou, who oversees the
nation's law enforcement and internal security
apparatus. Moreover, one of Zhou's relatives, who
is a millionaire businessman in Chongqing,
evidently enjoyed the Bo's patronage.
Bo sought the support of the PLA was attested to
by the fact that during an inspection trip to
Yunnan province in early February, he paid a visit
to the 14th Army, which was founded by his late
father, party elder Bo Yibo. Moreover, in his
capacity as Chongqing party chief, Bo has made
generous donations to upgrade the equipment and
welfare benefits of the Chengdu Military Region,
which oversees areas including Chongqing, Sichuan,
Yunnan and Tibet.
It is little wonder that
both in the run-up to and after Bo's dismissal,
president and Central Military Commission (CMC)
chairman Hu and his senior colleagues have made
moves to ensure the loyalty of military as well as
civilian units. The PLA General Political
Department has since mid-February started a
campaign entitled "Put emphasis on politics, pay
heed to the national situation, and observe
The gist of this ideological
movement is that officers and soldiers must
"maintain the utmost unison in thought, politics
and action with the party central authorities, the
CMC and Chairman Hu".
At the same time,
PLA units at the headquarters and regional levels
are undergoing a propaganda exercise entitled "We
must inherit Lei Feng's gun". In the 1950s, Mao
Zedong lionized the "proletariat paragon" Lei Feng
for his unquestioning loyalty to the party central
According to CMC vice
chairman General Xu Caihou, CMC chairman Hu has
instructed officers "to push forward the Lei Feng
spirit with a strong sense of political
responsibility and a high degree of
In a recent talk to
mid-level cadres, politburo member and CCP
Organization Chief Li Yuanchao urged officials to
"seriously implement all regulations regarding
clean government and discipline". Li warned,
"Cadres must under all circumstances be able to
uphold their sense of morality, maintain good
behavior, and not succumb to corruption."
Moreover, in a long article in the party's
theoretical journal Seeking Truth, Vice President
Xi Jinping called upon cadres to "safeguard the
purity of the party", elaborating, "We must
resolutely stop and combat any wrong political
tendencies that veer from the party's basic lines"
and "Leading cadres must resolutely uphold the
party's principles, charter, goals and policies"..
The timing suggests these homilies were issued to
rein in the centrifugal forces exposed by the Bi
Will Bo's political
demise-and the blow to his much-noted campaign to
resuscitate Maoism-spell a bonanza for political
reform? After all, news about Bo having been
stripped of his Chongqing post came just one day
after Premier Wen raised alarm bells about the
"reappearance of the Cultural Revolution".
Speaking at the international conference
at the close of the National People's Congress
(NPC), Wen underscored the imperative of political
reform after asking the Chongqing party leadership
to "reflect deeply" on the Wang Lijun affair. In
the ensuing weeks, many signs pointing to possible
ideological liberalization have emerged.
For example, immediately after Bo's
disgrace, the Utopia website, which is China's
most popular quasi-Maoist media, was closed down
for a few days.
More significantly, a
number of liberal cadres have circulated reports
that Wen has again called for a "re-examination of
June 4". This is a reference to the premier's view
that the CCP should overturn its verdict that the
pro-democracy movement of 1989 was a
noted full compensation must be paid to the
relatives of students killed during the Tiananmen
Square incident. Several Western and Hong Kong
media outlets reported last week that Baidu.com
and a couple of other popular search engines had
for a day or two lifted their long-standing
restrictions on taboo words such as the "June 4
incident". Even pictures and short videos showing
students and Beijing residents being gunned down
near Tiananmen Square were made available to
Beijing-based state media have continued to
publish pieces in support of a "deeper" stage of
political reform. For example, the People's Daily
ran a commentary on March 22 titled "We should not
lose any opportunity to breach the fortress [of
reform] and to overcome difficulties."
article admitted that signs of "a lack of balance,
insufficient coordination and unsustainability"
had hit different aspects of China's economic and
political life ."Deepening reform is a strategy
that will affect all aspects of the body politic,"
the commentary noted. This veritable call to arms
echoed a much-noticed earlier People's Daily piece
which said "while reform carries risks, failure to
reform will bring about dangers" to the political
In an interview with Hong Kong
media, noted reformer and Beijing University
jurist He Weifang expressed faith that political
and ideological reforms championed by Premier Wen
would run their course. "Premier Wen really meant
when he said," noted Professor He.
remain, however, as to whether the numerous calls
for unreserved loyalty to the party as well as
uniformity of thinking made by senior cadres might
militate against the spirit of liberalization. For
example, the PLA Daily breathed new life into Mao
Zedong's famous 1937 article entitled "In
Opposition to Liberalism". The paper noted in a
commentary last week that "each party member and
cadre should combat liberalism in a clear-cut
fashion ... [by] firming up their political
beliefs and obeying the party's political
Perhaps the best indicator of
whether the Hu-Wen leadership is ready to embrace
some form of political reform and "universal
values" is whether the authorities will handle the
Bo investigations according to the rule of law.
The high-profile princeling is expected to keep
his politburo status until the Seventh CCP Central
Committee plenum, which will likely be convened
about one month before the 18th Party Congress.
Despite widespread allegations and
innuendo regarding the misdemeanors by Bo and his
close kin, the Hu leadership has to convince the
Chinese public as well as the international
community that Bo-related police and judicial
proceedings are being conducted in strict
accordance to the law.
victims of Bo's "anti-triad movement" in 2009 and
2010, who have claimed that they were locked up
and imprisoned according to the kind of "rough
justice" associated with the country's
yanda ("strike hard") tradition, should be
given opportunities to seek legal redress.
In light of the brief period last week
when state censorship was lifted albeit only on a
selective basis, the authorities should give
Chinese and foreign journalists ample access in
covering the intriguing Bo saga. Steps in these
directions may help dispel fears that Premier
Wen's calls for liberalization once again will be
buried under the age-old imperative of
safeguarding unity and stability.
Willy Wo-Lap Lam is a Senior Fellow at The
Jamestown Foundation. He has worked in senior
editorial positions in international media
including Asiaweek newsmagazine, South China
Morning Post, and the Asia-Pacific Headquarters of
CNN. He is the author of five books on China,
including the recently published Chinese Politics
in the Hu Jintao Era: New Leaders, New Challenges.
Lam is an Adjunct Professor of China studies at
Akita International University, Japan, and at the
Chinese University of Hong Kong.