Downfall of Chongqing head a sign of China's power struggle
On Thursday, the day after the close of the annual session of China's legislature, the National People's Congress, it was announced via the official Xinhua News Agency that Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai had been removed from his office as party secretary for Chongqing, the top post in the nation's most populous municipality.
Bo, whose father was formerly a vice premier, is known as an influential leader among his fellow "princelings," children of past or current high-ranking party officials.
In the past Bo had assumed such key posts as head of the northeastern province of Liaoning and commerce minister. He was therefore seen as a favorite for promotion to a seat on the Politburo's Standing Committee, China's highest decision-making body, at the National Congress of the Communist Party late this autumn.
Close attention should be paid to the impact of Bo's removal on the formulation of new leadership under Vice President Xi Jinping, another prominent princeling, who is expected to be elected to the posts of party general secretary and president.
The direct reason for Bo's axing is believed to be his supervisory responsibility for an incident in which his close associate, a former police chief of Chongqing, fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, in early February and was then detained by state security officers.
Bo had used the police chief to carry out a large-scale crackdown on organized crime in Chongqing. He attracted strong attention nationwide because of his anticorruption stance, relentlessly punishing high-ranking officials of Chongqing's Public Security Bureau and others for their cozy relations with the city's gangs.
Echoes of historic conflict?
It was rumored, however, that his drives against organized crime and corruption were motivated chiefly by his desire to oust his political rivals under the guise of eradicating corruption. Bo's high-handed political style also reportedly provoked adverse reactions from within the leadership of President Hu Jintao.
Premier Wen Jiabao, in a press conference at the end of the latest National People's Congress, made reference to the Chongquing incident, noting, "Lessons must be drawn seriously," hinting that Bo would be responsible.
Wen went on to say, "Without reform of the political system, there will be no prospect for thorough reform of the economic system, possibly creating the danger of a recurrence of a historic tragedy like the Cultural Revolution."
Although what Wen meant to convey by such remarks is not yet clear, it was extraordinary for the premier to refer to the days of the Cultural Revolution.
This could indicate signs are emerging of a power struggle within the party leadership, somewhat similar to the days of the Cultural Revolution. Ahead of the transition in which the makeup of China's top leadership will be reconfigured at the coming party convention, backstage maneuvering between princelings and such factions as the Communist Youth League, led by President Hu, may be under way. There may also be a schism among the princelings themselves.
Mountain of hard tasks
At the threshold of an important generational changeover in China's leadership, the latest session of the National People's Congress approved lowering the country's growth target to 7.5 percent from a longstanding annual growth goal of 8 percent, signifying that China is now in favor of shifting its key economic policy away from continuation of high growth to balanced, sustainable growth.
From the standpoint of Japan, it is definitely desirable to see the Chinese economy maintain growth and achieve stability without losing steam.
Difficulties in China's domestic politics, however, have kept deepening, including widening disparities between rich and poor.
The Chinese administration has been narrowly managing to suppress the violent upheaval that has frequently broken out in various regions of the country.
How should Beijing build a framework conducive to pushing ahead with its political and economic reform tasks?
This is the challenge of utmost significance that must be addressed by China's new leadership to be headed by Xi.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 16, 2012)