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By Gao Yu, published: January 4, 2014
Up until the last day of 2013, the press inside and outside China was still anticipating an announcement about Zhou Yongkang, which would surely have been the most significant event of the year in China.
During Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States in February, 2012, a Washington Times columnist revealed that “Wang Lijun, a deputy mayor in Chongqing, provided explosive details about senior Chinese leaders during an overnight stay and debriefing at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu,” and that “Zhou could arrange the usurpation of Xi and upset the smooth transition from current President Hu Jintao to Xi.” At the time Wang Lijun’s flight had been in the news everywhere, and Chinese netizens immediately used the household name “Kang Shifu”(康师傅), a ramen noodle brand, to refer to the 9th member of the Politburo Standing Committee.
2012 ：A Difficult Year to Look Back
What exactly did Wang Lijun tell the US consul-in-general? “Kang Shifu” should know the best, because it was a deputy-minister of the Ministry of State Security under his authority who took Wang Lijun from the Consulate to Beijing. Zhou should have been the first to learn the details of the event and then reported them to Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. It was to be revealed later that Wang Lijun had known Zhou Yongkang before he had Gu Kailai and Bo Xilai, and he was indirectly a henchman of the law and security tsar.
During the Two Sessions in March, all eyes were on the Chongqing delegation, and Zhou Yongkang made a public appearance with the delegation. Reports said that he was the one who took Bo Xilai safely to Beijing.
On March 14, Wen Jiabao first framed the Chongqing incident during a news conference as a struggle about the party’s direction and that “historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution may happen again.” This spontaneous move by Wen Jiabao forced the CCP central committee to put the Bo-Gu-Wang incident on the table the next day.
Three days later on the night of March 18, a black Ferrari crashed on the Baofusi overpass, a major traffic conjucture on the 4th ring road in Beijing, destroying the car and causing deaths and injuries. Photos posted online were deleted; and netizens who reported the heavy presence of cops and armed police in Beijing on March 19 were detained for spreading rumors online.
In May, people in the know said that heated argument frequently broke out during the Politburo meetings, because, on May 7, the General Office of the CCP central committee held a direct vote among its members to get an idea of who would likely be chosen for membership in the new Standing Committee. Ling Jihua (令计划), the director of the General Office, was the third of five candidates the Office provided. The Standing Committee, with the exception of Hu Jintao, didn’t know about the vote. It wasn’t until later that people said it was a vote backed by Zhou Yongkang.
On June 29, Bloomberg News published Xi Jinping Millionaire Relations Reveal Fortunes of Elite. It had to be the most serious blow to Xi Jinping who, leader-in-waiting, had conducted himself carefully and required discretion from his relatives. Insiders reported the tension was so high that Xi Jinping was going to relinquish his position, and it was defused when his wife Peng Liyuan disclosed their assets in front of the Standing Committee in person. The insiders also revealed that, in July, the Standing Committee meetings were plagued by even more heated argument because overseas media kept exposing the family fortunes of its members and everyone felt vulnerable. As a result of these arguments, the Standing Committee decided to cancel all of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI)’s internal investigations into the members of the Politburo and the Standing Committee.
At some point, the Beijing public security chief Fu Zhenghua (傅政华) handed to Wang Qishan (王岐山), former Beijing mayor, Zhou Yongkang’s hand written instruction to the Beijing PSB following the Farrari accident in March. I reported this in an earlier installation of Beijing Observation: “Wang Qishan gave it to Zhu Rongji (朱镕基) who, upon learning the details, cursed, ‘Worse than animals!’ Zhu then reported it to Jiang Zemin, and Jiang Zemin said, ‘How can a man uphold the Party’s principle when he has no humanity?’ Jiang Zemin notified Hu Jintao who, up to that point, hadn’t had the slightest idea about what had been going on, and had to replace Ling Jihua who had kept everything from Hu’s knowledge. The leaders finally learnt the truth about the car crash of Ling’s son Ling Gu after it being tucked away for five months with the help of Zhou Yongkang.
On October 25, 2012, the New York Times published an investigative report by its Shanghai Bureau Chief David Barboza that detailed how the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s family amassed a fortune of 2.7 billion US dollars over the past 20 years.
When the nine dragons, or known as China’s “nine presidents,” came to attend the 18th Party’s Congress, each was bruised and wounded.
Over the party’s congress, Xi Jinping assumed power smoothly, Hu Jintao retired completely, and Zhou Yongkang and the rest of the older Standing Committee members retired. Even Jiang Jiemin (蒋洁敏), Chairman and Party Secretary of PetroChina who assisted Ling Jihua to pay big sums to the two injured Tibetan girls involved in the car crash, made it into the Central Committee.
Now that the new era had begun, how many more bloody power struggles would the new emperor have to put up with?
The sign came as soon as the Party Congress was over: A case was filed to investigate Li Chuncheng (李春城), the deputy Party secretary of Sichuan province and a newly-elected alternate member of the CCP Central Committee.
Dealing with a Law and Politics Tsar of Ten Years with Networks in the Party, the Government and the Petroleum Industry
In January, 2013, the new CCDI held its second meeting during which Xi Jinping vowed to “fight the tigers and swat the flies at the same time.” Soon, high level insider news said that Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan had plans to investigate four large cases apart from that of Bo Xilai, but the plans were staved off by the joint interference of Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin and Zeng Qinghong. Jiang Zemin’s reasons were very straightforward: “Don’t you care about the image of the Party? Do you intend to broadcast to the world the conflicts among all the CCP central leaders, old and new?”
From the Two Sessions in March to August, Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan had a hard time. The anti-graft plans were aborted, and the new administration found it difficult to assert its authority. Eventually, it changed strategy. In the past, the strategy was “pulling the turnip as well as the dirt around it;” the new strategy was similar to the one used to deal with the “nail-households.” That is, turn it into an isolated island by taking out all the houses around it. Between May and August, with lightning speed, senior leaders in Sichuan and Hubei were taken down one by one, and the domestic media reported the relationship between the son of Zhou Yongkang and money launderers. Then the investigation into the petroleum gang was launched, and the new CCP central committee member Jiang Jiemin (蒋洁敏) was removed. Hardly more indication was needed for the public to see who the true target was.
During the Beidaihe enclave (北戴河) in the summer, the overseas Chinese media clamored that a storm was bursting, but those in the know said Zhou Yongkang was also vacationing in Beidaihe. A well-known observer pointed out that, given that Zhou Yongkang started his career in the petroleum industry, was in the posts of the Minister of Land and Resources, the Party Secretary of Sichuan province and the Chairman of Law and Politics of the CCP for ten years, he mostly certainly has secret knowledge about the 9 previous SC members and the current 7 SC members, if not all of the so-called 500 families (or 200 by another version). A breakup with Zhou Yongkang, who has all the secrets in his hands, would completely turn the tables. For Xi Jinping to dismantle the entwined network of Zhou Yongkang, he must have the same resolve with which the Gang of Four was apprehended and with which Mao Zedong eliminated Lin Biao. The day when Xi succeeded in taking down Zhou would be the day he had truly taken control of the Party and consolidated his power.
Why Did Jiang Zemin Rush to Beijing?
From November 9 to 12, the Third Plenum was held that reviewed and adopted The Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms. It is Xi Jinping’s governance platform for the next ten years, also the first important party literature under his rein. Attendees of the Plenum reported that, instead of the entire body of the Standing Committee, led by the General Secretary, walking up to the presidium, greeted by a standing ovation, this time around, Xi Jinping strode onto the stage first and alone and sat in the middle of the presidium to receive the standing ovation before the other six, led by Li Keqiang, streamed onto the stage and seated themselves on either side of Xi Jinping.
On December 1, Li Zhanshu (栗战书), representing the CCP Central Committee, made an announcement to Zhou Yongkang: that he would cooperate with the investigation into related cases and issues, and he would continue to be addressed as comrade inside the party. The decision was circulated to provincial/ministerial level officials on December 5. During the CCP central committee’s economic work meeting in Beijing from December 10-13, the decision was circulated once again. It means that Zhou Yongkang is restricted in his movement. Former minister of petroleum Tang Ke, not in any way associated with Zhou Yongkang, died on the 5th at the age of 96, his obituary still has not been issued even though the body already has been cremated, because Zhou Yongkang’s name was not allowed to appear in the obituary, nor could Zhou send a flower wreath, lest his fall be made known to the public.
On December 20, the CCDI website announced that Li Dongsheng (李东生), vice minister and deputy party secretary of public security, and deputy director of the CCP’s leading group on the prevention and handling of cults known as Office 610, was placed under investigation for alleged serious violations of disciplines. People with inside knowledge revealed that Office 610 has been found to have sent materials to Bloomberg News about every standing committee member except for Hu Jintao and Zhou Yongkang. But Bloomberg News only published the story about Xi Jinping’s family because Xi was the leader-in-waiting.
Jiang Zemin, who usually spends the winter in the south, rushed back to Beijing on the 23rd, and on the 24th, the CCP central committee announced that Zhou Yongkang was placed under Shuanggui (party discipline for “under investigation in a designated place and for a designated period”). Observers have different takes as why Jiang Zemin sped to Beijing: 1) He turned around to agree with the decision of taking down Zhou; and 2) He continues to mediate between the two sides.
Indeed, Zhou Yongkang is a much bigger tiger than Bo Xilai, and he’s a threat to everyone and every family of the top crust. It’s said that materials in his possession are stored both domestically and overseas, and his fortune from graft is up to RMB 100 billion. It is also said that the case of General Gu Junshan (谷俊山), long pending without a resolution, also involves as much as RMB 100 billion in graft.
Someone characterized the Zhou Yongkang case as “exemplifying the struggle between the Red Second Generation (红二代) and the Bureaucrat Second Generation (官二代).” For the communist party, this alleged struggle is bound to be a double-edged sword. It is helping to establish Xi Jinping’s authority, but it will also be the most devastating exposure of the extent of the party’s corruption. A number of the Red-Second- Generation has been writing to Xi Jinping to bring his attention to the crony capitalism that has corrupted the party and turned it into “rotten cotton wadding.”
Until Zhou Yongkang’s adherents are purged, the tiger will still have teeth. In 2014, the CCP will undergo another round of power balancing. Zhou Yongkang can be locked up behind bars, or, following the Cheng Weigao (程维高) model, placed in confinement with an announcement of the Party’s disciplinary decision but without a judiciary trial. It’s possible either way.
(Translation of the version originally submitted to Deutsche Welle, by ChinaChange.org)
Gao Yu (高瑜) is a Beijing-based independent Chinese journalist and columnist. She used to work for China News (中新社), and later was the deputy editor-in-chief of the Economics Weekly (《经济学周报》). She was twice imprisoned for her participation in the Tian’anmen democratic movement in 1989. Her work has wide influence.
By Chang Ping, published December 17, 2013 (Chinese original published on December 6)
In the walled-in court of the Chinese Communist Party’s ruling elite, big dramas proceed one after another. The Bo Xilai-Wang Lijun-Gu Kailai series was sensational enough, and the Zhou Yongkang case is going to be even more earthshaking. Rumor has it that the former member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee and former secretary of the CCP Central Politics and Law Commission has been placed under Shuanggui (双规, Party discipline to investigate a cadre in designated place and for a designated duration). It is said that his wife, son and close associates have been held too.
For the past months, Zhou Yongkang’s henchmen have fallen left and right, and rumors have been rife. Up to this point, the CCP still has not officially confirmed the situation of Zhou Yongkang. But no waves are made without wind, and people have reason to believe that these rumors have truth to them, given how the Party’s information control mechanism works.
Some say the takedown of Zhou Yongkang reflects the anti-corruption resolve of the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping. At the beginning of the year, Xi Jinping vowed to crack down on both “tigers” and “flies.” So, who are the biggest tigers anyway? After Bloomberg News reported on the not-so-transparent fortunes of the Xi family, the two sites Bloomberg.com and Businessweek.com were promptly blocked by China’s Great Fire Wall, and repercussions are still being felt today. Last week, people in civilian clothes who claimed to be plainclothes police officers made unannounced “inspections” on Bloomberg’s offices in Beijing and Shanghai. This week, Robert Hutton, a reporter for Bloomberg, was banned from attending a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
Zhou Yongkang is no doubt a giant “tiger.” The Chinese say, when two dogs fight, each fills its mouth with the other’s hair (狗咬狗，一嘴毛), meaning that infighting is always ugly. How should we describe a tiger fight then? Heroes trading blows, or an anti-graft campaign? Neither. Under a dictatorship, struggle on the top level is bound to be a struggle raging in the palace that has nothing to do with the rule of law.
Lately, I have often come upon discussions about the Zhou Yongkang case. People asked me whether Zhou Yongkang would be arrested and tried. My take is that, as hard-hitting and heavy-handed as Xi Jinping is, it is unlikely that Zhou Yongkang will be arrested and tried purely for financial corruption. Unlikely for factional struggle either. I even believe that, without Wang Lijun’s flight to the U.S. Consulate, an anomaly by all means, there would have been no breakout of the Bo Xilai case, even though he was corrupt, coveted power, and his wife murdered someone. Without democratic elections, power will only be distributed internally, so it’s no wonder that there have been, and will always be, constant power struggles behind closed doors. At the same time, it’s also a natural instinct for the system to shield and protect the powerful and the privileged. We can almost ascertain that, in this system, one’s freedom to commit outrages is in direct proportion to one’s official rank.
But the script of the power play was rewritten by Wang Lijun’s derailing behaviors. They reversed the destinies of Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai while exposing Zhou Yongkang like a big fish being washed up on the shore. He could still have survived the disaster more or less unscathed if it was not for murdering his wife, as the rumors suggest. More crucially, he collided with Bo Xilai in a bid to overturn the decision made during the CCP’s 17th Congress that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang would succeed to the leadership positions of Party Secretary and Prime Minister, respectively, in the 18th Congress. Bo and Zhou are said to have aimed at, first, getting Bo Xilai into the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th Congress, and then staging a Zhongnanhai coup to assassinate Xi Jinping and make Bo Xilai the General Secretary.
These rumors are dubious until they are confirmed. What they reveal though, even just as rumors, is how far beyond an anti-graft campaign the CCP power struggle is, and how bloody the hand-to-hand combat is. Not easily imaginable for you and me. If the CCP didn’t publicize it, few would believe that the elegant, good-looking Gu Kailai could murder someone with her own hands, nor could we imagine the supposed assassination plan of Zhou Yongkang and Bo Xilai.
In politics without transparency and balance, there is always an excess of ruthlessness and dirty dealing under the smooth surface of harmony. The exposure of these inside events is a loud and definitive slap to the face of the scribblers on the regime’s payroll who have advocated the advantages of a “collective presidency.”
Loathing the abuses of the powerful and the privileged, people tend to cheer the one who axes them while ignoring the fact that more often than not, the same tactics have been employed to suppress dissidents as well as ordinary people. Since his leadership began, Xi Jinping has surpassed his predecessors in cracking down on free expression and persecuting dissidents, and this trend is unlikely to change with the downfall of Zhou Yongkang. Until news about Zhou Yongkang is officially announced, even the word “Kang Shifu” (康师傅, the brand of ramen noodles with which netizens refer to Zhou Yongkang) is unsearchable on Sina Weibo.
Furthermore, just as the regime avoided trying Bo Xilai for his more egregious crimes, such as wanton imprisonment, executions, and the unlawful confiscation of private property, all in the name of the “crackdown on black” (打黑), Zhou Yongkang will not be tried for his excesses in the name of “stability maintenance” that occurred during his tenure as the secretary of the Central Politics and Law Commission. He expanded the power of the police, installed secret police, monitored the life of average people at will, suppressed mass incidents brutally, arrested a large number of dissidents and even just people who voiced discontent, and spiked stability maintenance spending to exceed that of military, waging in effect a ten-year war against the people. He will not be charged or tried for any of these crimes.
What Xi Jinping has been trying to do has been described by many as “walking the Bo Xilai line without Bo Xilai.” Likewise, Xi will also be carrying on the torch of “stability maintenance,” spearheaded by Zhou Yongkang and others, and bring it to greater heights.
Chang Ping (长平), former chief commentator and news director of Southern Weekend. In April, 2008, Chang Ping was removed from his positions for the article Tibet: Truth and Nationalist Sentiments, published in the Financial Times Chinese edition. In August, 2010, ordered by the CCP Propaganda Department, the Southern Media Group banned his writings from the Southern Metropolis Daily and Southern Weekend, and the ban soon became nation-wide. Websites were ordered to take down everything written by Chang Ping. In January, 2011, he was asked to leave the Southern Media Group. He then worked in Hong Kong as the editor in chief of iSun Affairs (《阳光时务周刊》) until the authorities denied him a work visa out of pressure from the Chinese government. He lives in Germany now and is a current affairs commentator for South China Morning Post.
(Translation by ChinaChange.org)
By Yaxue Cao
Okay, where were we?
In Edition 1, the sleek, smart-looking British gent was nowhere on the scene yet, but we now know that he was seen pinching the behind of Gu Kailai (谷开来), wife of the newly-deposed Communist leader Bo Xilai, ten years ago in a southern town of England, and that he was found dead on Ms. Gu’s birthday in a hotel room in the southwest city of Chongqing, China. Quite a span however you look at it.
If you are like me, tired, sleep-deprived, and dozing off during much of the show, I suggest you sleep through it altogether lest you get drowned by a deluge of facts and rumors, but mostly rumors, swooshing down on you when you wake up in the middle of it:
Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang (周永康) planned to unseat Xi Jinping (习近平) in 2014, if they couldn’t get it done sooner.
On the night of March 19, the Armed Police Force under the direction of Zhou Yongkang surrounded Zhong-nan-hai (中南海, headquarters of China’s leaders) but were “driven away” by the elite security force inside.
Thirty-six people were apprehended and locked up in Beidaihe (北戴河, a beach resort northeast of Beijing), including a billionaire from Dalian associated with Bo.
The couple didn’t just kill one person; they killed four….not including a TV hostess who was said to have had an affair with Bo before she was disappeared…
“Sex, Lies, and Political Intrigues”, the headline of a Chinese overseas media reads.
But “Political reform is on its way!”, cheered the owner of a bookstore frequented by liberal opinion leaders. “The Central Committee has agreed on the Premier’s call for reform, and June Fourth is going to be redressed!”
Sure, it must be imminent if the edict we have been looking forward to for nearly a quarter century has passed down, already, to a mangy bookstore. Already, I am beginning to sorely miss my sense of Kafkaesque neverness….
Bo Guagua, the twenty-four-year-old son of Bo, was seen leaving his upscale apartment building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a besuited man wearing a badge, but both the police and the FBI denied of having anything to do with it. Some reports said he was spotted in New York, others said he was taken back to China. And not to be left out, the State Department said he was still in Harvard….
Oh, Ms. Gu Kailai is dying from bone cancer, according to an English paper in Hong Kong. She has probably only a year or two to live, and the disease has made her erratic, flirty and “promiscuous.” Hmmmmm.
“Zhou Yongkang is in trouble!”
“Or is he?”
“Zhou Yongkang is the next!” The clamoring persists.
That would be a turn of events that I will be genuinely happy about. Zhou and the Committee of Politics and Law (政法委) he leads, is the source of evil in China that’s behind all the torture, disappearances and heavy sentences for dissidents.
From all directions, all sorts of people are feeding the media, not because they have information (they may) to give, but because they are motivated to say one thing or another. I perked up from my doze when I heard Reuters quoting “a source close to the investigation.” To my ears, it rings shrilly, “Beware!”
To be sure, the show will duly come to an end, and we will be informed of the “findings,” hopefully soon because it is everyone’s belief that the Party doesn’t want to drag it out for too long. But prepare yourself for a report similar to that of the high-speed train accident last year: It will be all about how it would best serve the Party, not the truth.
Case in point: While we haven’t heard anything about a trial, let alone a verdict from the court, the People’s Daily is declaring, on April 18, that Gu is guilty of killing Heywood and, more importantly, “the criminal case shall not be interpreted as a political struggle.”
Of course not, except that, for days on, every branch of the government, everyone who matters at all, has been solemnly pledging their loyalty to Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) and the Party’s Central Committee in headlines that remind us of a bygone era.
How can you expect easy truth when it took multiple groups of foreign journalists and several tries just to identify the hotel where Heywood was found dead?
How can you trust the Chinese authorities when the state-owned media, perversely, insist on calling the dead man 伍德 (Wood) when his name is 海伍德 (Heywood)?
But thanks to him (sorry about your death, but you shouldn’t have fooled around with those people), the CCP can’t put a lid on the whole thing and zip it up. When was the last time you saw foreign media poring over a Chinese case on an O. J. Simpsonian scale? I am hopeful as long as they are digging, even if some of them are merely regurgitating rumors off the Chinese Weibos.
I don’t know exactly what I am hoping for. But that’s precisely why I am hopeful: From this crack that the CCP can’t control and can’t seal, something might be pried open that would cause a chain reaction that would lead to another thing, and still another thing….
Columbus went out to look for the East Indies, but instead, he found the New World. You get the idea. I am excited about the possibilities.
So, foreign journalists, keep it up! The British journalists in particular! Give me a new world, or, at least do proud your Willy Shakes (@IAM_SHAKESPEARE)!
By Hu Ping
Mr. Hu Ping (胡平) was a graduate student of philosophy at Peking University in 1980. On campus that fall there was a lively student campaign, and then election, for People’s Representatives of Haidian District in Beijing, an event that has not been seen since. Mr. Hu was one of the candidates. I remember all of a sudden the campus was filled with milling crowds reading posters by the candidates sharing their ideas. Public debates were held, followed by endless chattering around meal times and in the evening hours. After ten bleak years of the Cultural Revolution, the energy was palpable, raw and eruptive. As a freshman still just finding my ways in college life, I understood little of what was going on, but I do remember reading Mr. Hu’s posters on the walls lining my way to the student canteen, and I remember the fresh impressions his writings made on me. They had to do, among other things, with John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.”
It serves to consider this: 30 years on in 2011, independent candidates across the country, as few as they were to begin with, were harassed, beaten and prevented from campaigning. Few have made to the ballot, let alone been elected.
Mr. Hu Ping is one of the most respected dissent intellectuals. He now lives in New York, is the editor in chief of Beijing Spring (《北京之春》), “a monthly Chinese-language magazine dedicated to the promotion of human rights, democracy and social justice in China.”
This article was originally published in Chinese on March 26, 2012, by Radio Free Asia, and this translation appears here with the permission of Mr. Hu.
Does Wen Jiabao Really Wish to Redress June 4th?
Financial Times on March 20 revealed that Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) has proposed to redress the June Fourth crackdown (Tian’anmen Square in 1989) three times in secret meetings of Chinese communist senior leaders over the last few years, but each time he was met with opposition from some, and Bo Xilai (薄熙来) was among the fiercest dissenters.
It’s hard for us to ascertain the veracity of such reports. But it’s probably true given the series of speeches Wen Jiabao has made about political reform.
During the press conference at the end of the Two Meetings (两会), Prime Minister Wen Jiabao once again appealed unequivocally for political reform. In response, some gave credit to him, while others dismissed him.
As always, Mr. Yu Jie was strongly dismissive (余杰, author of Wen Jiabao, China’s Best Actor, who has recently arrived in the US for asylum after being tortured in the hands of Chinese authorities for his connection with Liu Xiaobo and his criticism of the regime). Yu Jie called Wen’s press session a “sedative” that doled out false hopes and made the public think, “We can still have hope in the Communist Party, since it still has in it good people, just men and benevolent ministers!”
In my view, however, Yu Jie got it backward: Even the Premier who wants to push for changes couldn’t get them going, and it goes to show how bad the political climate is in China now, how recalcitrant the current system is, how little CCP can be expected, and how improbable it is for political reform to occur solely from within the system.
The reason Yu Jie rejects Wen Jiabao is that Wen talks but doesn’t do. Yu Jie’s logic is that, if Wen Jiabao really wants to push for political changes, he would have accomplished something using his power as a Premier, not merely flashing a few pretty words. But that is to assume that, under the current circumstances, the Premier alone can initiate political reform and attain concrete results. This view seriously underestimates how trenched special interests are, how rigid the system operates, and how severe the political reality is.
To be sure, it’s hard for us to establish Wen’s motive. But instead, we can ask ourselves this question: Suppose Wen Jiabao sincerely wants to effect political changes, is he able to do so in the present situation? My answer is: No, he would not be able to.
The reasons are not all that complicated.
First of all, he is not the No. 1 figure. His main job is to manage the economy; and politically he has limited power.
Secondly, today’s China is not a dictatorship but an oligarchy. Each of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee has his area of responsibility, and unless you are the General Secretary, it wouldn’t be easy for one member to interfere with issues under the jurisdiction of another member. Most of the human rights abuses were perpetrated by the Committee of Politics and Law overseen by Zhou Yongkang (周永康). The year before last year when Wen Jiabao gave speeches calling for political reform, some liberal intellectuals within the system planned to answer his call, but they were soon given “special attention” (meaning “giving warning or threat”—Yaxue’s note) by Zhou Yongkang’s people. Now that the power of the Committee of Politics and Law has recently been weakened a bit, things perhaps will get somewhat better.
In addition, the central government is much less authoritative than before, and as some people put it, [the central government’s] “edicts don’t leave Zhongnanhai.” Others say, “Isn’t that good? With the weakening of the central government, the local governments will have more room to make their own decisions. Isn’t that great?” But it depends on what edicts we are talking about. All of the stability-maintenance edicts get implemented consistently. For example, when the central government ordered crackdown on Falun Gong, a lot of local officials had not wanted to do that but had to carry out the order. Also, the recent harassment of independent candidates for people’s representatives was also a national deployment without exception. Only edicts that touch on the interest of local officials, such as the anti-corruption ones, are collectively resisted and, thus, couldn’t get implemented.
Some ask, why was Bo Xilai, a local governor, able to “sing red songs and crush crimes” that made waves and created buzz, while the Prime Minister cannot seem to act on his ideas for political reform?
That’s because the two things are not equal. As I said a long time ago, in post-June 4th China, there has been plenty of room for flaunting Maoist tendencies, such as what Bo Xilai has done in Chongqing, but almost no room at all for raising the issue of liberalism. Any sign of it has been promptly snuffed out.
At the press conference, Wen Jiabao expressed his helplessness, frustration and deep regret. He stressed the difficulty of carrying out reform, and he concluded that, “for any reform to happen, the people must wake up and support it with their initiative and creativity.” This is tantamount to saying that, relying on the top leadership, on the CCP, there will be no political reform. This echoes what we have been saying all along: “Hope lies in the realm of non-government.” Do everything we can to strengthen it—that’s what we have concluded.