Will Wang Yang Have The Last Laugh?

Reuters’ Chris Buckley reports that victims of the “Strike Black” campaign that lay at the heart of Bo Xilai’s “Chongqing Model” will likely demand a reversal of their convictions, a development which would bring pressure on an incoming generation of Chinese leaders eager to put the Bo scandal behind them:

Heading into 2013, they are likely to face an outcry, said lawyers and prisoners’ families who allege that Bo and his long-time police chief, Wang Lijun, presided over rampant injustice in the name of fighting criminal gangs and corruption in Chongqing, the southwest municipality that was their fiefdom.

“The barrier to dealing with these unjust verdicts now is that there are so many of them,” said Zou Zhiyong, a Chongqing businessman who said his father-in-law Li Xiaofeng is among the once rich or powerful prisoners planning to seek release and redress from convictions made under Bo.

“We’ll certainly appeal, but not yet, because we have to wait and take into account China’s special political environment,” said Zou. “We’ll wait until after the 18th Party Congress. Many cases will come forward then,” he added.

Before the wheels fell off of Bo Xilai’s Red Culture Express, his “Chongqing Model” of governance was often mentioned alongside Guangdong party chief ’s comparatively liberal approach, with the two men underscoring the increasingly public ideological cleavage within the Chinese Communist Party and seen as competing to define the next chapter in China’s development. Now, as the one-in-a-decade leadership transition approaches this fall, Foreign Policy’s Geoff Dyer assesses Wang’s chances to claim the Politburo Standing Committee seat that eluded Bo:

The travails of Guangdong’s economy will be one of several factors that will decide whether Wang gets promoted to the Standing Committee in the autumn. As many as seven seats could be up for grabs this year, and the favorites include Wang Qishan, a vice premier who is in charge of the financial sector; Zhang Dejiang, another vice premier who was sent to Chongqing when Bo was sacked; and Li Yuanchao, who runs the Communist Party’s powerful Organization Department. Some of Wang’s liberal supporters grumble that as the decision nears, he has been trying to demonstrate a more ruthless streak, including tighter controls on Guangdong’s media and a less tolerant attitude toward protests. This is not a good time for a Chinese politician to look weak. At the moment, hardheaded political calculation is pushing out reformist zeal.

Given the political rivalry between Guangdong and Chongqing, Bo’s spectacular political fall has focused a lot of attention on Wang, but the scandal could work both ways for him. Bo’s disgrace has certainly boosted the credibility of the Guangdong model. At the same time, a promotion for Wang might be seen as too big a victory for the anti-Bo faction. Chinese leaders generally don’t preview their appointments for nosy Western reporters, who are rarely granted insights into their political calculations. But Wang’s fate will be an important barometer for which way China is headed. Bo’s way may already have been rejected. Will it now be Wang’s?

In its Yearbook 2012, The Australian Centre on China and the World details the two models and the public debate they have inspired:

Chongqing and Guangzhou have loomed large in the national debate about the future of China. At stake in the contest between Chongqing and Guangdong were strategies for urban development as well as approaches to ruling the country as a whole. In 2011, the symbolic politics of the two places inspired what was dubbed the ‘cake debate’. It was the first time Communist Party leaders used the media to air contesting visions of regional development. In Chongqing, Bo Xilai advocated a more equitable distribution of the wealth generated by the county’s economic boom – ‘dividing the cake’ among the deserving and needy, whereas Wang Yang, the Party Secretary of Guangdong province, promoted continued economic growth in the Pearl River Delta region – ‘making an even bigger cake’. Bo’s formulation drew on historic socialist ideals and the way they intersect with contemporary concerns about increasing income inequality, a problem that had become so serious that the government stopped publicizing statistics about the distribution of wealth. Bo proposed the redistribution of wealth through government funding of programs for the public good including the provision of low-cost housing for migrant workers. Referring to Deng Xiaoping’s pragmatic acknowledgement that in a market economy some people will become rich first, in July 2011 Bo said: ‘some people in China have indeed become rich first, so we must seek the realisation of common prosperity.’ A week later Wang Yang responded that: ‘division of the cake is not a priority right now. The priority is to make the cake bigger.’ This in essence was the ‘cake debate’.

The clash of models and the ‘cake debate’ saw an unprecedented media-fueled conjuncture of national politics, urban planning and contending regional visions in the lead up to the 2012-2013 power transition. While Wang Yang in Guangdong called for continued growth while warning about the limits of self-promotion, Bo Xilai spotlighted the extremes of inequality in Chongqing and the need for greater social equity. In July 2011, the Party Committee of Chongqing adopted a resolution to reduce inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient from 0.45 to 0.35 and highlighted the serious 0.65 figure in Guangdong. Bo also invited members of the Politburo Standing Committee which rules China to Chongqing to witness his achievements.

The ‘cake debate’ that featured Bo as a champion of egalitarianism and Wang as the paladin of liberalisation camouflaged the important contribution that national-level city planners and thinkers have made to China’s overall economic and social innovation. The clash of visions and regional plans show how regional Party leaders project their power through real and symbolic projects. Yet whether in Chongqing or Guangdong, part of what makes a fascinating challenge to our understanding of China is the economic processes unfolding in the country’s new cities. By contrast to the economic path followed by advanced industrial economies in which agriculture gave way to manufacturing followed by services industries, the speed of development in China has meant that agriculture, mining, manufacturing and services industries often develop simultaneously and intertwine in ways that have significant implications for social change.