Gu Suhua writes from Chengdu: Wang Lijun, once one of China’s top cops, has just been sentenced to 15 years in jail. He was found guilty of bribery, bending the law, defection and abuse of power. He pleaded guilty during his two day trial last week. He is a lucky cop. In the past seeking political asylum and telling the Americans everything he knew would have resulted in a bullet in the back of the head. He has been treated leniently, presumably for cooperating fully with the police.
Among the charges he admitted was accepting a bribe of half a million US dollars to release four prisoners. Where would prisoners lay their hands on that kind of money? Presumably they were in the protection business.
Wang’s chief, Bo Xilai, ruled Chongqing, a self-governing municipality of 32 million people, as a personal fiefdom. He launched a high profile campaign against corruption. It is now clear that this was only a cover for removing some groups involved in organised crime and favouring others. Bo and Wang were handsomely rewarded for siding with some and eliminating others. These two comrades were, in reality, running their own huge protection racket. Estimates of the amount of money Bo and his family moved abroad are as high as $6 billion. A lot of juice, as a Chicago hood would say.
Bo also had ambitions to become top comrade in China. Politically he assumed the mantle of a Maoist. Mao was big on egalitarianism and came down hard on those making money. So Bo built a lot of social housing in Chongqing and resurrected red songs which praised Mao during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). The less well off loved him. Had there been a presidential election he would have won. So he was a populist and a ruthless politician.
His success frightened the leadership in Beijing. They favoured rapid economic growth and wanted to leave the division of the growing cake until later. Bo wanted the cake divided up more evenly now. So he was also a threat to the existing economic model.
Wang has been treated leniently. There are indications that the leadership is preparing to put Bo on trial for corruption. That would mean a public trial and the washing of a lot of dirty linen in public. Hitherto it was assumed that he would merely appear before a Party disciplinary committee and be declared a non person. If he is put on trial it means the leadership are wary of his potential political influence. A crisis in the leadership due to declining economic growth could allow him to appeal to popular sentiment again. A trial and conviction for corruption would result in a long prison sentence. That way he would be taken out of the political arena.
The 18th Party Congress next month will see new leaders take over. The Wang and Bo cases underline the fact that corruption is the greatest danger to the Communist Party. The new leaders will need time to settle in before they act against their political opponents. If a leading politician is accused of corruption it will mean that he has lost his political protector at the top. The new leadership would like to drop all those linked to Bo. Will they have the political clout to do so?
The omens are that political infighting is set to intensify at the top.