Bo Xilai

Bo scandal likely to unite the Party

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 April, 2012, 12:00am


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The latest turn of events in the Bo Xilai affair have made one thing clearer about China's biggest political crisis in more than 20 years - the likely fate of the charismatic high-flyer. After the dual announcements of his suspension from the top ranks of the Communist Party over discipline violations, and of the investigation of his wife over the death of a British business associate, Bo seems certain to go to jail.

That would be an ignominious end to the career of a populist of nationwide renown. But he was also a man of contradictions. His leadership of Dalian and Chongqing and his crackdown on crime and corruption made him popular with the masses. But a campaign to revive values of the Maoist era stirred painful memories of the Cultural Revolution and rankled fellow leaders of modern China.

Events precipitated by the attempted defection of Bo's former Chongqing police chief, and his subsequent interrogation, are sensational enough. But what makes the Bo case really extraordinary is that it has uncovered an apparent schism in the leadership. His removal as municipal party chief, followed by this week's sacking from the politburo and central committee, have been seen as evidence of a rupture that casts uncertainty over the generational leadership succession which begins next autumn. The other side of the coin, of course, is that his fall has removed one source of uncertainty.

There have been concerns whether the split, centring on economic and political reform, would make the power struggle even more problematic. It should be remembered that the history of the Chinese Communist Party is dotted with power struggles and debates over fundamental policy issues.

This raises the question of how the party survived such upheavals as the Cultural Revolution and the June 4 crackdown on student protesters. The rule of solidarity prevailed: once a decision is reached, for better or worse, everyone must abide by it and respect it. Judging by past experience that is the case with the Bo investigation.

Mao Zedong famously said that upheaval or crisis strikes China once every seven or eight years. This one may be late or early, but if the past is any guide it will pass without serious harm to the solidarity of the leadership or the political legitimacy of the party. Rather, it will spur the leadership to unite and put aside personal differences - not only in their own interests, but because Communist Party rule is at stake. In the wake of the crisis, the emphasis is bound to be on economic and political stability. But that should not be allowed to delay reforms aimed at putting China's meteoric growth on a sustainable path, safeguarding its achievements and spreading the benefits equitably among its people.