Gu Suhua writes from Beijing: What is it about China and Ferraris? First, it was former top party boss Bo Xilai’s son, Bo Guagua, driving around in a red Ferrari with lovelies in tow, breaking speed limits and upsetting the locals. Soon Bo was unceremoniously dropped as party secretary of the mega-metropolis, Chongqing.
Now we have the story of the son of another top party official who died when he crashed his red Ferrari, leaving two young women who were semi-naked with him in the car with serious injuries. This scandal has just cost the father of dead young man, Ling Jihua, his job. Ling was head of the Communist Party of China’s General Office. This bland title actually implies that Ling was Hu Jintao’s chief of staff. So the outgoing Secretary General of the Party – that’s Hu, in case you’re wondering – has just lost his right hand man. Ling has been demoted to some orrelevant job in the trade union movement.
So who benefits from Ling’s demotion? It weakens Hu so the automatic assumption is that it strengthens Xi Jinping, poised to succeed Hu as Party leader at next month’s 18th Communist Party Congress. The comrade who has replaced Ling is Li Zhanshu. He just happens to have close relations with Xi dating back to their days together in Hebei province.
How will Hu react? One possibility is that the current horse trading deals reached at the top may begin to unravel. This in turn may intensify the jockeying for influence before the Party Congress. Another result may be that Xi Jinping will find it easier to consolidate his power base after taking over. With Hu’s right hand man gone, he will find it more difficult to influence events after his retirement.
There is a more important lesson which can be drawn from the two scandals – those of Bo and Ling. It is that the leadership is deeply embarrassed by the behaviour of the offspring of the elite. They have money to burn and often have an extravagant lifestyle. Some of them are mega-rich because they head corporations. This nepotism is now arousing more envy among ordinary Chinese. It is common for the children of the ruling class to spend time abroad in developed countries. Some of them take their studies seriously but many do not. Why work hard when there are millions in the bank? Almost all members of the elite own property abroad. They serve as bolt holes when things begin to go awry.
So the message is: ensure that your offspring behave properly or you will be punished. The two Ferrari crashes and scandals affect the standing of the leadership. At a time when the economy is entering stormy waters, the last thing the bosses want is another scandal. Conspicuous consumption is to be avoided, at least in public.