Friday, May 04, 2012

China: Behind and Beyond Bo Xilai's Sacking

China: Behind and Beyond Bo Xilai's Sacking
By Shastri Ramachandaran*
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

NEW DELHI (IDN) - Much has been written about Bo Xilai, the charismatic party secretary of the southwestern city of Chongqing who was sacked from the 25-member Politburo of the Communist Party of China (CPC). And, much more is likely to be written in the turbulent course of China’s decadal political transition set to climax in March 2013.

Most of what has appeared in the media about Bo is about the man, his political lineage, his ideological bearings, his power and popularity, his crackdown on crime and gangsterism in Chongqing (a city with a population of 31 million), his rise to stardom and, not the least, his fall just before the last lap to the pinnacle. There are also stories of his wife, her involvement in the murder of a British national and his police chief taking refuge in the American consulate in Chengdu.

Doubtless, these developments signify a power struggle in the party’s higher echelons. Beyond that, the debate is limited to whether Bo’s disgraced exit would help or hinder Dengist reforms; and whether the crackdown on corruption and crime in the party will continue. Yet there is much more to the situation and contrary to what is purveyed by the state, party and media in China.

China is in the throes of an extraordinary crisis, perhaps, for the first time since Mao's death in 1976. Reports of intrigue, corruption and the purge or persecution of powerful party bosses have raised questions about a smooth political succession.

This is akin to 1976 in the way the upheaval began. The death of two top leaders, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De, was followed, in July, by the earthquake in Tangshan, the mining city in northern China, killing over 250,000 people. This was seen as a portent of worse to come, and two months later, on September 9, Mao Zedong died. What ensued is all too well known.

Bo as a phenomenon has cracked the mould of authoritarian control. The forces unleashed make difficult any prediction of a political or economic outcome. Bo is the defining face and driving factor of the extraordinary churning now underway in China. He has triggered reforms far beyond the merely financial or economic.

First and foremost, is the media and Internet revolution now witnessed in China. In 2010, the Obama administration launched an offensive against China in the name of worldwide Internet freedom. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kept up the campaign for months and Google, which until then had been comfortably doing business with the Chinese authorities, also joined battle. The Washington-led campaign came a cropper.

Now, within weeks of his dismissal on March 15, 2012, Bo has brought about what Obama, his team and the Internet giants like Google couldn't achieve. Bo, as an issue, has exploded on the Internet unlike anything before. The Chinese have found ways to beat the censors and the Net is teeming with blogs and microblogs.

Second, media and media technology is at the centre of the current ferment.If in 1989 it was the fax machine, now the Internet and the mobile phone have emerged as vehicles of information, instruction, instigation and resistance.

Third, the state and official media are on the defensive. Despite initial denials, reports rejected as "rumours", "lies" and "canards" are, eventually, admitted to be true. The sea of reports relating to Bo, his wife and political events that have now proved to be correct were floating on the Internet for several days and debunked as "rumours".This is an information revolution that was neither planned nor scripted. It simply happened, and is a runaway success.

Chinese media will never be the same again. There is a new synergy between Chinese bloggers at home and the millions of Chinese expats. The coming together of the overseas Chinese and those at home is something that last happened in 1989.

As in 1989, again the liberals and conservatives, the reformists and the neo-Maoists are clashing in the open. The debate over China’s political and economic directions is being conducted in public forums, including the Internet, and across borders. There are no bounds or boundaries to this engagement.

Bo is an economic conservative but a political reformist. He wanted reforms which would move politics back to the left, far from the free market values rampant in today's China.

In the aftermath of Bo Xilai’s emergence, and fall, there is a new clash of ideas and values affecting China’s polity, economy and society. Ideology is once again to the fore. The Party's iron control has been loosened. There is a new vibrancy to public life and the media seems irrepressible.

These make for a potent political cocktail, the worse for being both shaken and stirred. As Mao’s wife Jiang Qing famously said, "Sex is engaging in the first rounds, but what really sustains attention in the long run is power."

*Shastri Ramachandaran is an independent political and foreign affairs commentator, had worked as Senior Editor & Writer with the Global Times and China Daily in Beijing. This article first appeared in DNA-Daily News and Analysis. [IDN-InDepthNews – May 03, 2012]

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