Friday, 16 March 2012

A Bad Day at the Office

Bo Xilai is probably pondering what to do next
Beware the Ides of March, said the soothsayer to Julius Caesar just before he was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate.

And in Bo Xilai's case, yesterday marked the end of his high-flying career as the Chongqing Party boss who had ambitions of climbing the Party ladder, but stumbled badly.

It's disappointing to see this happen to him, but hubris can lead to one's downfall.

I like many others was attracted to his charisma, his English fluency and seeming ability to lead. He looked different from the other staid leaders who stayed close to the script or had the same old-man look.

Bo was first party secretary of Jinxian county in Dalian, then party secretary of the Dalian Economic and Technological Development Area. In 1999 he became the city's party secretary and from there promoted to the Liaoning governor in 2001 replacing Zhang Guoguang who was hit by corruption scandals.

Then he caught international attention when he was promoted to Commerce Minister in 2004 where he made his mark handling numerous trade disputes with the United States and Europe, and attracted foreign investment.

I thought he'd definitely move up the senior ranks so I was surprised to see him instead moved to Chongqing in 2007, which while it has the country's largest population at 32 million, it's not a mover and shaker position like Beijing and Shanghai.

And then it seemed he made a bad right turn when he began his red campaign of texting residents revolutionary slogans and encouraging them to sing red songs that were eerily reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.

This was a huge contrast to his personal life where his son Bo Guagua has led a flamboyant playboy life, living it up in Oxford and now Harvard University, going out with politically connected girls including Jon Huntsman's daughter and driving a Ferrari.

Bo also caused a stir by the way he and his deputy Wang Lijun handled the crackdown on triads which made him look like the swaggering cowboy in the wild west. While he was praised for taking on gangsters who have had Chongqing as a stronghold for a long time, senior officials were concerned by the heavy handed tactics he used, neglecting rule of law and using torture to extract confessions.

He also got a Beijing-based lawyer convicted for fabricating evidence which critics said was a move to deter lawyers from defending suspects.

But things came to a head last month when a bizarre incident happened when Wang entered the US embassy in Chengdu 300km from Chongqing and stayed there overnight before being taken away by Beijing-based officials.

No one knows exactly what Wang told US diplomats but it is widely understood he tried to gain asylum but was denied.

This incident had serious repercussions for Bo and everyone was waiting during the "two sessions" what would happen to Bo.

Up until Wednesday everything seemed to be fine and Bo even gave a press conference to reporters.

However when Premier Wen Jiabao was asked about Chongqing he gave a critique that was unusual for senior leaders and many analysts believe he was speaking on behalf of the entire leadership.

"The current party committee and government of Chongqing must seriously reflect upon and learn lessons from the Wang Lijun incident," he said.

Although he was not singled out by name, Bo's face looked sullen and by the end appeared to look like he had lost interest. He probably knew the end was nigh.

Yesterday it was announced in a short statement that Bo was dismissed and Chinese state media have said little about Bo's sacking.

He will now be replaced by Zhang Dejiang, whose patron is also former President Jiang Zemin, and is also known for studying economics in North Korea in the late 70s. What that means for Chongqing economically is hard to say.

In the meantime what will happen to Bo's future is still a mystery. And what of his family and their wealth? Does this mean selling the Ferrari?

It's a crashing end to a personable man and my hopes that the Chinese leadership would loosen up a bit. In fact the opposite has happened and they are determined more than ever to keep a poker face.

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