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Bo Xilai Is Down, But Is He—and What He Stood for—Down for the Count?

Bo Xilai was fired as Chongqing chief of the Chinese Communist Party on Thursday. Thus ends his initially popular but eventually unstable reign in Chongqing and his quest for a seat at the most powerful table in China.

Bo Xilai is a fascinating and scary figure. He is a demagogue in a non-democratic society, and he had friends in powerful places.

Some tea leaf readers think Bo’s friends and rivals made a deal over what to do with him. A ceremonial position or cozy retirement could be in his future. Consider this from the Washington Post:

Bo’s replacement in Chongqing, Zhang, is known to be, like Bo, a protege of former president Jiang Zemin, who is elderly and ailing but believed to still play a powerful behind-the-scenes role. The replacement of Bo by someone of the same “faction” suggested a political deal had been worked out beforehand to preserve the balance between various power groups.

Others have carefully picked apart the latest stage in the Bo Xilai saga. Suffice it to say here that this episode made divisions at the top of China’s leadership more visible than they have been in years, and that the red Maoist revival Bo stood for will likely not disappear with him.

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  • Luke Lea

    China is a deeply corrupt, totalitarian state, unlike any of our other trading partners I would like to hear someone make the case — moral, political, or economic — for doing business with it.

    Can WRM or anyone else explain why it is not:

    — Morally wrong to deal with such people?

    –Politically dangerous to build up the economic and military power of a state controlled by such people

    — Economically foolish to undermine our manufacturing capacity and the standard of living of our people for the sake of the extra profit American enterprises can be earn by doing business in China?

  • Luke Lea

    Correction. Make that “morally wrong to deal with such a regime” since it is the regime not the Chinese people themselves I am speaking about.

  • Anthony

    Bo Xilai and China’s current arrangements are discussed today on Charlie Rose; insights will be helpful for WRM’s China watchers.

  • J R Yankovic

    Mr Lea, from where I stand, nobody beats the drum more eloquently – or persuasively – than you do on the matter of the amorality (or worse) of our dealings with the PRC. But I keep getting the impression that, as keen, balanced, sensitive AND teachable an observer as Prof Mead is on most other topics, when it comes to these precise questions (and also related ones, I fear, re Saudi Arabia) – well, you might as well be talking to a fencepost. I hope I’m wrong.

  • Luke Lea
  • Kris

    Luke@1: Well, the standard case is that Chinese freedom has increased since American engagement. The evidence for this is debatable, but is much more solid than your argument that it has caused a lowering of the American standard of living.

  • Douglas

    China today is not a totalitarian state, certainly nothing like Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union or Mao’s China (or North Korea or Cuba). It has rejected Maoism and personality cult dictatorship. The Party secretary (the head of the Chinese government) and the rest of the Standing Committee of the Politburo have term limits – ten years in office, then they have to retire. There is a great deal of freedom of speech in China so long as you stay away from certain taboo subjects – Tibet, Falun Gong, Tianamen Square – and ordinary citizens can and do criticize the government quite vigorous. What there is not is any freedom of association. (We mush those two concepts together in the US; the Chinese see them as very different.) That is why Liu Xiaobo was sent to prison, for circulating a petition, not for speaking out.

    Is China authoritarian? Yes. Is there a rule of law? Yes and no. The Party and its security apparatus are above the law. But ordinary disputes between people or commercial disputes are often resolved by courts applying the law in a non-political way.

    In short, talking about China as “totalitarian” misses the point. I take that term to mean an all-encompassing State control of everything that everyone says, believes, does. That is not China today. Could it revert to that model? Well, if Bo and his crew were to come to power, that could happen. Thankfully, that did not happen.

    Will China evolve towards the rule of law and the end of the Party’s monopolization of power? Who knows? But it is surely in the US’s interest to encourage change in that direction. Many senior officials say that China must move in that direction over the long term (20 years plus). I note in closing that the Chinese leadership by and large sends their children abroad (the US and the UK) to study. What do you think that augurs for the future of China?

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