U.S. editorial excerpts -2-.
Selected editorial excerpts from the U.S. press:
CHINA'S GAME OF THRONES (The Wall Street Journal, New York)
The show trial of Bo Xilai, former Chongqing boss and aspirant to the pinnacle of national power, begins Thursday in China. While the participants are unlikely to deviate from the script, the proceedings will nonetheless expose the factional struggles in Beijing.
Mr. Bo's fall following his wife's supposed murder of British businessman Neil Heywood has undermined three core claims of the Communist Party. First, that the national leadership is unified. Second, that the process of selecting the next generation of leaders is institutionalized. And finally that open struggle for power like that seen during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution can never happen again.
Mr. Bo shattered these myths when he mounted a populist campaign to win a spot on the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee selected last November. Had he succeeded, he might have been able to marginalize the long-anointed top leader Xi Jinping and seize the kind of power that Mao held during the Cultural Revolution.
That may seem far-fetched, but Premier Wen Jiabao warned of the possibility in March 2012. Asked about the scandal then emerging in Chongqing, he said, "After the implementation of reform and opening up, the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution and feudalism have not been completely eliminated" and "a historical tragedy like the Cultural Revolution may occur again." The premier pointedly referred to the Communist Party's 1981 resolution on Mao's mistakes that marked the beginning of an era of limited competition between opposing factions.
Mr. Wen's warning fits what we've since learned about Mr. Bo's tactics. He seized upon the largely empty leftist rhetoric of the last top leader, Hu Jintao, and staked out a radical position that involved mobilizing "the masses" to sing red songs. But even as he criticized capitalism, Mr. Bo channeled favors to businessmen such as Xu Ming, who bankrolled his son's education at Harrow and Oxford.
Most dangerous, Mr. Bo was not averse to using violence to advance his interests. One of his first policies on arriving in Chonqing was to launch an "anti-mafia" campaign in which business leaders were tortured into confessions and their assets redistributed to Mr. Bo's cronies. When the murder scandal broke, he pointedly visited the 14th Army Corp in Yunnan province, a unit with close ties to his family. This scared the party sufficiently that it has since undertaken a campaign to ensure the military's loyalty.
The potential for disaster in the charismatic Mr. Bo's power grab is clear, but it appears there was no consensus among the top leaders to remove him on these grounds. Many of the top leaders visited him and pledged support for the "Chongqing model." This network has not been purged.
Instead Mr. Bo's downfall was a closely fought affair won by a stratagem that would make Sun Tzu proud. The crucial figure was Chongqing Police Chief Wang Lijun. The party's top investigation body began to close in on Mr. Wang for corruption committed during a previous posting, driving a wedge between him and the Bo family.
Seeing no way out, Mr. Wang sought refuge in the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February 2012. That gave Mr. Bo's enemies the story of the Heywood murder (whether true or not) they needed to convict his wife and bring him down.
While Mr. Wen and other critics of Mr. Bo prevailed, they did so at a heavy cost. Like the defection and death of Mao's chosen successor Lin Biao in 1971, the strange story has increased public cynicism about one-party rule. The advent of microblogging allows citizens to crowd-source analysis of every detail, instead of accepting the state media's information.
This means the party needs this trial to proceed smoothly and end the drama in a way that minimizes the damage. The long delay since Mr. Bo was expelled from the party last September points to difficulties in writing the script. While China's leadership transition last November was a factor, the relatively light corruption charges against Mr. Bo suggest that he still has juice. The party's need for a guilty plea and show of contrition also gave Mr. Bo something to trade for a lighter sentence and protection for his son.
That leniency could create more cynicism and anger. The party also used Mr. Bo's downfall to claim that China is moving toward the rule of law. Instead this trial confirms that like any authoritarian regime, China's stability is a fragile facade. Bo Xilai gave us a peek behind the curtain at China's Game of Thrones.