The Bo Xilai Crisis: A Curse or a Blessing for China? An Interview with Cheng Li
By Anton Wishik April 18, 2012
China currently faces a daunting political crisis, due to the ongoing scandal riveting the country as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) prepares for its upcoming leadership transition. Bo Xilai—formerly party chief of Chongqing and a member of China’s Politburo—has been stripped of his posts due to an investigation stemming from Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun’s February 2012 visit to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. During his conversations with U.S. officials, it is believed that Wang revealed damaging information about Bo and sought refuge due to his fear of persecution. After spending a night at the consulate, Wang was taken into custody by Chinese officials, a fate later shared by Bo and his wife Gu Kailai. Wang is currently being investigated, while Bo has been accused of various transgressions and Gu is suspected of involvement in the death of British citizen Neil Heywood in late 2011.
Bo, the son of a famous Chinese revolutionary, came to national prominence during his time as party chief of Chongqing due to his charisma, his ruthless crackdown against organized crime, and his promotion of Maoist songs and imagery. Before being assigned to lead Chongqing, Bo served as minister of commerce and mayor of Dalian in Liaoning province. In the months prior to this scandal, Bo was viewed as a rising star and a candidate for promotion to the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee.
NBR spoke with Cheng Li, an expert on Chinese elite politics and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, about the significance of these events, what they mean for China’s upcoming leadership transition, and their implications for future Chinese political reforms. This interview appeared on the NBR website: www.nbr.org.
How significant is this crisis for China?
My overall assessment is that the dismissal of Bo Xilai is a very positive event in China’s political development. While it has already constituted the most serious political crisis since the 1989 Tiananmen incident (and perhaps since the 1971 Lin Biao incident), the Hu Jintao–Wen Jiabao administration may have successfully avoided an even bigger crisis. In stark contrast with the 1989 Tiananmen incident, China’s economy and society have hardly been disrupted, at least up until now. This reflects the maturity of Chinese society and the strength of the country as a whole. To a great extent, this crisis has been a good thing for China. It not only reveals major flaws in the Chinese political system, but may also help the Chinese leadership, intellectual communities, and the general public reach a new consensus, thus contributing to bold and genuine political reforms. However, if the leadership fails to seize this great opportunity, the CCP will be in greater jeopardy in the years to come. Continue reading