Political Crisis Deepens as Dozens Targeted

Despite efforts by the Communist Party to present a facade of unity and stability in the midst of a political scandal, reports show that the crisis may be both deepening and widening with a possible investigation of the nation’s top security chief and arrests of dozens of allies of Bo Xilai, the recently-deposed Chongqing Party chief. The Washington Post reports that Zhou Yongkang, a Standing Committee member who oversees security and is viewed as an ally of Bo’s, may be facing an investigation:

In keeping with China’s closed political system, the information released publicly about Bo’s case has been little, the rumors many and almost no one is willing to speak on the record.

But overseas-based Chinese websites and political insiders are now saying that Zhou, one of nine members of the party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, is also under heavy scrutiny and could face a reckoning.

“Internally, the power struggle is getting more intense and, if true, Zhou’s removal would be seriously damaging,” Beijing-based political analyst Li Fan said.

Zhou, 72, is widely reported to have been the only leading official to have argued against last week’s striking decision to suspend Bo’s membership in the 25-seat Politburo — a step that effectively ended the political career of one of China’s most ambitious and high-profile politicians.

Meanwhile in Chongqing, several of Bo’s supporters and colleagues have been detained in connection with the investigation into Bo and his wife, Gu Kailai, who has been accused of planning the murder of Briton Neil Heywood. From the New York Times:

The detentions are part of an attempt by the central Communist Party to dismantle Mr. Bo’s support network and build a case against him and his wife, Gu Kailai, who is under investigation for the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood. Mr. Bo is being investigated for serious disciplinary violations.The detentions and, in some cases, replacements of Mr. Bo’s allies in Chongqing began soon after party leaders ousted him on March 15 as the city’s party chief, said people in Chongqing and Beijing, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation. Some analysts say the purging of Mr. Bo has presented the party’s top echelon with a challenge that it has not faced since the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre in 1989.

[…] Among the Communist officials detained after Mr. Bo was removed from his post was Wu Wenkang, the deputy secretary general of the municipal party branch, who is considered one of a handful of people in the Bo family’s inner circle, according to businesspeople in Chongqing.

Jiang Weiping, a Chinese journalist living in Canada who came into conflict with Mr. Bo after writing about him, said Mr. Wu had been close to Mr. Bo since Mr. Bo’s tenure as mayor of Dalian, a coastal city in the northeastern province of Liaoning, and was intimately involved with his family. Mr. Wu moved to Chongqing after Mr. Bo became party secretary there in 2007. Guo Weiguo, a Chongqing police official who was also close to Mr. Bo in Liaoning Province, was also recently detained.

The Telegraph earlier reported that as many as 39 of Bo’s allies, mostly from Dalian, have been detained in Beidaihe.

Meanwhile, stories and anecdotes are coming to light which illustrate the extent of the corruption and brutality employed by Bo, Gu, and former Chongqing Police Chief, Wang Lijun, whose visit to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu launched the chain of events leading to Bo’s dismissal. Reuters reports on an encounter at a restaurant in Chongqing, where Gu Kailai was dining with Wang Lijun’s wife:

The raucous diners in a hilltop restaurant in southwest China ignored a waiter’s request to quieten down after a complaint from a petite woman at a nearby table.

[…] “Not realizing who she and Wang Lijun’s wife were, the rowdy table ignored her. So Gu Kailai called Wang Lijun who drove up to the hotel himself and drew his gun on the rowdy table and told them that they hadn’t realized who they were dealing with,” said a source close to Chongqing officials.

“It was only then that Wang Lijun realized the rowdy drinkers were senior police from the Nan’an district (of Chongqing),” said the source in an account backed by a second source who cited police descriptions of the incident.

Heads rolled. The two sources said officers at the restaurant table were removed from their posts.

One of the most gruesome stories, reported by the Telegraph, indicates that Bo Xilai launched a crackdown on police close to Wang Lijun who were investigating Gu Kailai’s role in Heywood’s death, and may have had two of them tortured to death. Malcolm Moore reports that officials in Chongqing were called to a meeting to notify them of these developments:

“Officials were told not to bring their mobile phones into the room, not to make any notes, just to listen,” said one former official, who asked not to be named.

They were then read a description of how Mr Bo, the powerful party secretary of Chongqing, had quarrelled with his police chief, Wang Lijun, after he heard that his wife might be implicated in the death of the 41-year-old British businessman.

[…] “At least seven of Wang’s associates, including his driver, were arrested by Bo, and at least two were tortured to death,” said the document that was read out, according to the former official.

While the central government has launched a propaganda blitz presenting the crackdown on Bo and his allies as a demonstration of the Party’s commitment to the rule of law, others are finding it confirms deeply-rooted fears about endemic corruption. The Guardian’s Tania Branigan reports:

Corrupt officials smuggled 800bn yuan (£80bn) out of the country and around 17,000 people fled abroad between the mid-1990s and 2008, according to a report that China’s central bank released last year, apparently unintentionally.

“[Bo’s arrest] isn’t a typical case of graft. Nevertheless, it illustrates the irrefutable truth that unchecked power leads to corruption,” warned the gutsy business magazine Caixin.

Columbia University’s Xiaobo Lu, an expert on official abuses of power, said the affair was a “huge challenge” for the regime. “Bo’s case has revealed how closely power and money are married. In China, the corruption problem has been clearly recognised as a legitimacy-threatening problem.”

If you need a little help keeping the main players straight in this complicated story, check out the BBC’s profiles of the four main characters. And for more background information, see CDT’s Bo Xilai page.

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