Liang Jing (梁京): Bo’s Anti-Mob Campaign in Chongqing Challenges Hu’s Rule by Empty Rhetoric

20091020222804719Thanks to David Kelly, Professor of China Studies, China Research Centre, University of Technology Sydney, for translating the following opinion piece by political commentator Liang Jing:

Liang Jing: Bo’s anti- mob campaign in Chongqing challenges Hu’s rule by empty rhetoric*

On the morning of October 16, Bo Xilai told the public for the first time about what set off the “anti-mobster” storm in Chongqing over the past year. He said, “We didn’t strike out against mobsters on our own initiative, it was they who forced us to take steps.” This is an interesting statement. [1]

According to official media reports, over more than 80 days of operation in the summer and autumn period of last year, the Chongqing Public Security cracked 32,771 criminal cases, and executed or arrested 9,512 people. In September alone, they uncovered 11,925 cases, cracking down and dealing with 7,610 people. From checks, the police collected a total of 13,446 illegal guns, and seized 22,835 knives. As the case developed, a group of senior judicial officials and businessmen were arrested, including Wen Qiang, the Chongqing Justice Minister, and involving billions of dollars worth of assets of the mob-related wealthy, and as much as 30 billion yuan funds of illegal loan sharks. [2], [3] Why should Bo have stressed that, in striking out against such a group of sinister forces doing serious harm to society, he was not “acting on his own initiative”? As a high provincial official governing a whole region, wasn’t he obliged to move against the rampant mobsters on his own initiative? Who were the target audience of this declaration? What was the political message he sought to convey?

The facts of the anti-mob campaign in Chongqing show that the scale of damage, the depth of local officials’ collusion with sinister forces, all stemming from Jiang Zemin’s decade of indulgence and corruption together with Hu Jintao’s seven years of running the country on empty rhetoric, have reached appalling proportions. The high-ranking officials sent to the regions by the central authorities are only too clear about the growth and expansion of local gangs. But they have to comply with a tacit rule [qian guize], namely avoiding a showdown, because it is bound to touch on the political background of the sinister forces, to the detriment of “safeguarding stability.”

By striking hard in Chongqing, Bo is clear violating this tacit rule, which must surely cause unease among other high Party officials, in particular He Guoqiang (currently Chairman of the Central Discipline Inspection Commission), and Wang Yang (in charge of Guangdong), both of whom have been in charge of Chongqing. Wen Qiang, Chongqing’s former Minister of Justice, was a high-ranking and trusted official when He and Wang were in charge there. He has now been exposed as a patron of the mobsters and led off to prison in iron chains, which could hardly fail to embarrass He and Wang. More seriously, everyone knows that the collusion of local officials with sinister forces is no isolated phenomenon. Jiang Weiping has revealed that when he was in charge of Dalian, Bo Xilai had murky connections with sinister forces. If all new regional leaders were as ‘undisciplined’ as Bo Xilai, wouldn’t it lead to people undermining each other?

Thus, his public declaration that he wasn’t campaigning against mobsters of his own initiative, was in fact conveying this message to high-ranking officials in other regions: it’s not that I, Bo Xilai, don’t know the rules, but I had to do it as a last resort. This declaration, with its whiff of outlawry, tells us as well that the strike was Bo’s own independent decision, and lacked Hu Jintao’s direct imprimatur. He would otherwise most likely have dropped Hu Jintao’s name, to ingratiate himself with Hu as well as protect himself.

Bo Xilai’s determination to have a showdown with the deep-rooted dark side runs considerable political risks, and even personal security risks. For Bo, who has experienced many vicissitudes and is sophisticated, to dare to make such a decision shows his political style and ambition.

Striking hard in Chongqing brings a breath of fresh air to China’s stifling mediocrity and boring politics, and also offers many challenges to Hu Jintao, who relies on ruling the country with empty rhetoric. By moving against the mobsters in Chongqing, Bo makes it impossible to continue avoiding the fact that local gangsters are in collusion with local officials everywhere. Hu Jintao is thus forced into a dilemma: by allowing Bo Xilai to crack down on Chongqing’s mobsters, he increases Bo Xilai’s and the princelings’ political capital, which he he has no wish to do; more importantly, to permit striking hard in Chongqing, means putting pressure on local leading officials, forcing them into a showdown with the dark side. And this, the majority of local leaders have no wish to do. Were Hu to adopt an attitude of indifference regarding the Chongqing strikes, it would mean both he and his Youth League faction losing popular approval.

An even more dramatic challenge is that Bo is soberly aware that having failed to gain Hu’s support, to be able to win this ferocious war with local mob forces he must rely on broad public support. Last week’s trial of the case showed the insufferable arrogance of the gangsters, which is is not unusual given China’s highly politicised judiciary, and shows that they sense political weakness in Bo’s failure to gain central support.

I would therefore argue that Bo Xilai’s high-profile appearance on this occasion was a public airing of his firm determination to strike down the mobs, and his expectation of popular support, and relates to the increased pressure he is receiving on all sides. “It’s still very difficult to strike the mobs at present, difficulties, but there is public support. We’re going to win,” he said.

Over the years, Chinese officials at all levels have become accustomed to using officialese and empty rhetoric to avoid real communication with the public; and this has attained unprecedented levels with Hu Jintao. By striking hard against the mobs, Bo is placing himself in a back-to-the-wall situation; he must call on his capacity for mobilising the masses, while fighting for his own political future.

The hard strike in Chongqing signals that Hu Jintao & Co’s rule by empty rhetoric can no longer muddle along. But where does Bo want to take China? This may become more the issue of concern.

* 梁京:薄熙来重拳打黑挑战胡锦涛空话治国

[1] Qiu Ruixian, “Bo Xilai tan Chongqing da hei chuzhong: bingfei zhudong er wei” [Bo’s broaches his original intention in cleaning out Chongqing: not done on his own initiative], Guangzhou ribao, 17 October 2009 [邱瑞贤: “熙来首谈重庆打黑初衷:并非主动而为”, 广州日报,2009年10月 17日 (].

[2] Liu Chanshe, “Chongqing jingfang 80 tian daibu wan ren, bufen kanshousuo baoman” [Chongqing police arrest tens of thousands over 80 days; some detention centre are full], Chongqing wanbao, 22 October 2009 [刘潺摄: “重庆警方80天逮捕万人 部分看守所爆满”, 重庆晚报,2009年10月 22日 (].

[3] Li Xinhong and Xiao Qingong, “Chongqing dahei da an kai shen, heijin diguo xiekai zhenxiang” [Trials start in Chongqing major anti-mob case; truth revealed about empire of gangland gold], Zhengjuan shichang zhoukan, 21 October 2009 [栗新宏、萧芹共: “重庆打黑大案开审 黑金帝国揭开真相”, 证券市场周刊,2009年10月 21日 (].

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