Chongqing: In Line with the People’s Wishes

Chongqing (Sichuan province) residents set off firecrackers today, celebrating the execution of the provincial-level city’s former chief justice Wen Qiang (文强), reports cqnews.net (via Enorth). A banner at the – apparently spontaneous – celebration reads “long live justice” (法律万岁). The Wall Street Journal writes that

Wen Qiang was put to death following the rejection in May by China’s Supreme Court of an appeal of his conviction on charges including bribery, shielding criminal gangs, rape and inability to account for millions of dollars in cash and assets, according to Xinhua news agency. Xinhua didn’t say how Mr. Wen was executed.

In the wake of Chongqing’s punching black crime / uprooting vice (拳打黑除恶) campaign, a top judge, a defense lawyer and Mr. Wen’s brothel-owning sister-in-law, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison, had also been tried.

Bo Xilai (薄熙来), Chongqing’s CPC Committee Secretary, has become a wildly popular politician during his three years as the city’s  party boss so far, for targeting the underworld as well as senior-level government officials who collude with the mafia.

But not everyone is that unreserved in blanketly praising Bo. Zhang Wen (章文), former head of the editorial department of Xinhua’s Globe magazine, wrote – translation by ChinaGeeks – that

Bo Xilai and the “northeast tiger” Wang Lijun entered Chongqing and started a war and began a “battling corruption and evil” movement that has gradually begun to spread nationwide and worldwide. This action is in line with the people’s wishes, and at the same time, also in line with what central authorities wish.

At first, the public opinion was very one-sided; no one could find any fault with Bo. The controversy and difference of opinions came with the case of Li Zhuang. Proponents of the democratic rule of law questioned and criticized the legality of Chongqing [court] proceedings, but Bo Xilai’s supporters hold that punishing lawyers who defend “bad people” is appropriate.

Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai is a high-level lawyer who has been working for many years. The two have been together for many years and Bo himself was once the head of the Ministry of Commerce, and thus often negotiated international legal issues with foreign opponents. Because of this, Bo Xilai should have a solid conception and knowledge of the law.

But in the end, in the Li Zhuang case, the organs of justice in Chongqing left a bad impression that they might violate legal procedures. Precisely because of this, some people’s opinions on Bo Xilai changed dramatically. I myself once wrote an essay expressing pity that Bo Xilai hadn’t turned out to be the sort of high-quality modern politician [we had hoped].

In his analysis, Zhang Wen describes how other CCP cadres, possibly disappointingly for Bo Xilai, were promoted to the national government level while he was left on the provincial level [he was posted from Liaoning Province to Chongqing instead]. Therefore, Bo had to find an innovative way to make himself known beyond the provincial level anyway.

In economic matters, how could Chongqing compete with Guangdong? Bo could only focus on social issues. Visiting the poor, no matter how well he did it, could only make local waves; he couldn’t compete with the influence of Premier Wen Jiabao’s nationwide travels. Social security and medicine, etc. were also out, they couldn’t be dealt with in a short time frame. He could only follow the people’s wishes and attack corruption, using extreme methods to rock the entire nation. There was no political risk, but the move did have an influence on politics.

That’s not to say that, from the central government’s perspective, Bo Xilai would have gone wild, and the (now mandatory) final review by China’s Supreme Court isn’t the only indication that, in cases like Wen Qiang’s, Bo’s alleged populism remains within the limits set by the central government, at least so far. Russell Hsiao, in an article for The Jamestown’s Foundation’s China Brief of November 4, 2009 (page 3), quoted Hong Kong papers reporting that

the Chongqing “anti-triad tornado” was made possible only after President Hu Jintao had personally given approval to the unprecedented crackdown. Bo indirectly confirmed this by saying late last month [i.e. in 2009] that the “anti-triad operation was handled by the party central leadership” and that it was “not a case of Chongqing trying to set a sensational example”.

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Related
Dolkar Tso thanks Samdrup’s Lawyers, June 26, 2010

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