Friend: Bo Allegations “Preposterous”

A close friend of Bo Xilai’s family told BBC News on Wednesday that allegations against the recently-sacked party chief of Chongqing, including those about his strained relationship with former police chief Wang Lijun and recent accusations of foul play in the death of British businessman Neil Heywood, are false:

“That’s just preposterous,” the Bo family contact told the BBC.

He said the relationship between Mr Bo and Mr Wang was “normal” just days before the policeman fled. “He was pledging his allegiance,” said the contact.

He added that members of Mr Bo’s family had worked hard to avoid the appearance that they were benefiting from the politician’s rise.

The source said Mr Bo had nothing to do with the death of Neil Heywood, the British businessman who died in Chongqing in November 2011.

The death of mysterious death of Heywood has added to China’s churning rumor mill, according to The Washington Post, and helped to quench the “massive thirst” of the Hong Kong press and mainland netizens for news since the March 15 announcement of Bo’s dismissal. While the Chinese government immediately named Zhang Dejiang as Bo’s successor, The Financial Times’ Kathrin Hille reports that Chongqing is in limbo as it waits to move on from the recent drama:

Since Beijing announced on March 15 that Zhang Dejiang, a vice premier, had replaced Mr Bo, Chinawatchers have been discussing if his purge is merely part of a fight over power or a broader ideological struggle in the party over the country’s future.

Government critics in Chongqing anxiously await the answer to this question. “We all breathed a sigh of relief when he was gone, but key is what comes next,” says a Chinese lawyer who has practised in the city for many years.

“The problem is all the power is in the party’s hands. Once you have a party secretary who abuses that, it turns into a nightmare,” he says. “Bo Xilai was like Hitler.”

With new details continuing to emerge every day, The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos pauses to reflect on Bo’s downfall and China’s political circus:

The dawn of the oligarchs? One striking feature of Bo’s case comes through clearly in a piece by Sharon LaFraniere and Jonathan Ansfield: this is not the familiar story of hapless, voiceless peasants being brutalized by a local thug. The list of victims includes a motorbike mogul, a construction tycoon, and a real-estate baron. “In 10 months, 4,781 people were arrested, including business executives, police officers, judges, legislators and others accused of running or protecting criminal syndicates.” One of the crucial distinctions between the political economy of post-socialist China and Russia has been the fact that oligarchs in China have steered clear of politics. The Communist Party has managed to keep the support of its most market-oriented citizens. That turns out to be harder than it sounds.

It’s always the loose ends. For all the drama that this story has produced, it’s noticeable that we have gained our best views into it only when it veers wildly into other countries’ lanes. It began, we’ll recall, with Wang’s dash to the consulate, which not only brought American diplomats (and other agents) into the mix, but also drew a phalanx of security forces that made it impossible to hush up the story within China. The latest, impossibly alluring detail, courtesy of Jeremy Page and colleagues at the Wall Street Journal concerns the Briton Neil Heywood, a man of pale linen suits and indeterminate employer, said to be perhaps a “low-level fixer” for the Bo family. He was also said to have worked with former MI6 agents, until he died in a Chongqing hotel room while embroiled, apparently, in a business dispute—involving Bo Xilai’s wife, Gu Kailai.

In a Wednesday editorial, The Guardian claims that Bo’s “Chongqing model” was not the right prescription to quell China’s social and political ills:

Now that Bo has lost his position, his critics are freer to point to evidence that the campaign against crime violated the law even by China’s loose standards, used torture and illegal detention, extorted money from companies, and targeted Bo’s political rivals while sparing his allies. On top of that, some of Bo’s apparently commendable activities in city beautification and police reorganisation, as well as his famous “red songs” programme, were sustained by profligate spending that has left the city hugely in debt. Whatever it is that China needs in the way of reform, and the leaders in Beijing are pretty clear that it needs something, that something is not the Chongqing model. It provided an impression of rapid movement and beneficial change which was misleading. It promised social justice and clean government without delivering it. And it suggested a quasi-democratic accountability might be on the horizon when it was not.

Instead, citizens found themselves marshalled into patriotic choirs or sent off for stints in the countryside in a parody of cultural revolution measures that was more silly than sinister but was in any case irrelevant to China’s real problems. The higher leadership, worried about the volatility and unpredictability Bo was introducing into politics, were probably right to close down the Chongqing experiment. That does not mean, unfortunately, that they have anything so far to offer their people other than the continuation of a very imperfect political status quo.