Smell of a power struggle in China

On March 15, it was announced that Mr. Bo Xilai was dismissed as Communist Party chief of the thriving southwestern Chinese metropolis of Chongqing. On April 10, it was reported that he was suspended from the Chinese Communist Party’s 25-member Politburo as well as from the party’s Central Committee.

The party is now investigating him on charges of serious violations of party discipline. On April 25, a media report surfaced that it is now suspected that Mr. Bo went so far as to wiretap telephone conversations of President Hu Jintao. Mr. Bo was once regarded as having a chance to become a member of the highest echelon of China’s leadership at a party convention to be held in autumn. His downfall points to a possible power struggle at a time when China is preparing for leadership transition.

Peculiarly, Mr. Bo’s downfall involves an element of crime. His wife, Ms. Gu Kailai, a lawyer fluent in English, has been turned over to investigative authorities on suspicion that she and a servant of the Bo family murdered British businessman Neil Heywood. His body was found at a Chongqing hotel in November 2011. A criminal investigation of the wife of a member of the powerful Politburo is unheard of. Chinese authorities must unravel and disclose the whole picture of her alleged crime as soon as possible.

There is a view that Ms. Gu might have moved large amounts of assets overseas and that trouble had developed between her and Heywood, who had helped move Bo family assets overseas. If proven true, the allegations against Ms. Gu will show serious wrongdoing and the abuse of privileges by members of the China’s political elite and their family members.

As the top leader of Chongqing, Mr. Bo was popular with many Chongqing citizens because he cracked down on organized crime and oversaw economic growth of more than 10 percent. He also employed the old leftist method of encouraging the singing of revolutionary songs, reminiscent of Cultural Revolution days.

Behind Mr. Bo’s popularity was people’s dissatisfaction with the great gap between the rich and the poor in the midst of economic development and corruption among leaders. His downfall means that the Chinese leadership has rejected his left-leaning ways aimed at dissipating people’s discontent. If so, the leadership must be all the more serious about both economic and political reform that truly improves the well-being of people in China.