Some 3,000 young Chinese “princelings” have apparently been placed in prestigious British “public schools” (meaning fee paying and private!) and at universities including Oxford and Cambridge.

The Chinese princelings seem little different from the scions of the Russian oligarchs who have been buying up British school places for some years. They have joined other wealthy foreign elite from places such as India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich countries, who see Britain as a safe haven.

British schools make great efforts to attract foreign pupils as their ever-rising fees are now in many cases too high for the squeezed middle and professional classes in Britain to afford. Roedean, which likes to think of itself as the Eton of girls schools, is now reported to have more than 50 percent of its pupils coming from overseas.

Money to pay the fees is essential, but the princelings also need help to prepare themselves for their new life as well as introductions and guidance.

Some parents want to maintain a British home to which their children can go during the holidays and during the increasing number of “exeats” (home weekends), which the schools encourage.

One British fixer who operates from Shanghai is reported to have built up a lucrative business propelling Chinese children into top British schools. He apparently declared recently that “if you had a good British contact, you wouldn’t really need too much else” (except, of course, lots of money).The number of mega-rich Chinese — including senior officials of the Chinese Communist Party — sending children to British schools has until recently been kept discreetly quiet.

However the recent disgrace of Bo Xilai, the former Chonqing Communist Party chief, has led to the spotlight being turned on this practice. How did a senior party cadre, who had urged a return to the principles of Mao Zedong and expected to be appointed to one of the main leadership positions, come to have such wealth and allegedly use it to send his son, Bo Gua Gua, to Harrow, one of the top British public schools? Bo Gua Gua went on to enter Balliol College, Oxford, and then Harvard University. Places at these universities are normally reserved for the intellectual elite. Money and influence would be required to gain a place unless his son had outstanding ability. Bo Gua Gua is, however, reputed to have behaved like a wealthy playboy.

The British intermediary in this case is said to have been Neil Heywood an old boy from Harrow and a businessman in China, active in the sale of luxury cars to the Chinese mega-rich. Heywood was reported to have died of a heart attack in a hotel in Chongqing as a result of excess alcohol’

Bo Xilai’s chief of police in Chongqing province,who had apparently had a serious disagreement with Bo, sought refuge in the U.S. consulate. He let it be known that Heywood, who was only 41, had been poisoned by cyanide and is said to have accused Gu Kailai, Bo’s wife, of being responsible for Heywood’s murder. She is reported to have been arrested.

In the Chinese police state, where the law is flexibly applied and every effort is made to cover up scandals and corruption, it is difficult to discover the truth. But one rumor has it that Heywood had threatened to reveal the extent of the Bo’s wealth, derived from corrupt practices, unless he received a greater share of the cash. Another rumor was that there was an element of sexual jealousy involved. None of these rumors may be true, but it seems probable that Heywood had given considerable help to Gu Kailai, who lived for a time in Britain while her son was at Harrow, and that Heywood’s role in China was that of a fixer.

The British authorities, who were accused in the media of being slow to follow up on allegations that Heywood had been murdered, have since pressed the Chinese government to investigate the case fully and make the results of their investigations public.

At a time when the CCP leadership is changing,this case has caused acute embarrassment in China. This embarrassment has been compounded by further reports of serious human rights abuses in China. Chen Guangcheng, the 40- year-old blind activist, who had protested against abuses in his home province of Shandong, had been placed under close house arrest, although no charges had been laid against him. He managed to escape and made his way to Beijing, where he sought asylum in the American Embassy.

As this occurred just prior to an official visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Chinese were particularly embarrassed. Chen complained that his family had been threatened by Chinese officials and to prevent their being persecuted further agreed to leave the embassy and go to a hospital in Beijing. He apparently hoped to be allowed to fly out with Clinton.

This did not happen. Instead the Chinese authorities are believed to have agreed that he and his family would be allowed to go to the United States to study after a U.S. university offered him a fellowship.

Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, who recently had a major exhibition in London, has also been persecuted on trumped up charges. His plight has attracted significant attention in Britain and has increased concern here about human rights abuses in China.

The Chinese leadership seems determined to ride out the scandal involving Bo and his wife, and will continue to ignore complaints about human rights abuses. They reckon that their economic leverage is so strong that other countries will let them get away with the corruption, hypocrisy and abuses, which have been further exposed by recent cases.

They are probably right, but these abuses undermine the legitimacy of the CCP and the stability of the regime which they control. The media in democratic countries should continue to expose human rights abuses and corruption in China and the hypocrisy of its “communist” regime.

Hugh Cortazzi served as Britain’s ambassador to Japan from 1980-1984.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.