Bo Xilai’s sudden Exit and Political Reform: between Negation and Affirmation

Recent comment from He Weifang (贺卫方), a Beijing University professor of political science and law, has caught some attention outside China, too, but apparently mostly in Taiwanese media, and at Deutsche Welle (quoted here by Wenxue City). He reportedly analyzed reports about Bo Xilai‘s fall from power as reflected in two Hong Kong papers, Ming Pao (明报) and Sing Tao (星島). His remarks refer to Wen Jiabao‘s press conference on March 14, but probably beyond the Q & A quoted in my post there.

If He analyzed HK papers’ reports, he also got questions from at least one HK reporter, by e-mail. The two questions and answers (links within the following blockquote were added during translation):

Q1: Bo Xilai’s Chongqing model gained a popular backing when wealth gap yawns wide. His policies in Chongqing indeed narrowed wealth gap and gained popular support from residents there. I was wondering if his demise would end his Chongqing model completely? Or in some way, steer people’s attention from the good aspects of Chongqing model?

A: It is generally believed that the so-called “Chongqing Model” is mainly shaped by three aspects: “red culture” on the political level, “targeted actions against dark and evil forces in Chongqing“, and the reduction of the income gaps between the poor and the rich. The most criticized aspects are the former two, although there is support for the two of them in Chongqing and elsewhere. The third aspect isn’t that controversial. However, all data published concerning the efficiency of the measures taken to narrow the income gap are actually issued by the Chongqing authorities, and therefore lacking neutral assessment. Also, we can see that the whole process is strongly government-led, whose focus isn’t on creating a market logic of equal opportunities. If this approach will or will not lead to mistakes in financial policies, including the rural land policies‘ impartiality, is also questionable. And then there are concerns about life today being lead on future earnings, short-term inputs being made to curry favor with the public, which may come at high future costs.

答:一般认为,所谓的重庆模式主要由三方面内容构成:政治层面上的红色文化,执法层面上的“打黑除恶”以及民生方面的缩小贫富差距。最受诟病的是前两者,虽然在重庆和其他地方,似乎也有一些人人对于“唱红”和“打黑”表达支持。第三方面内容相对较少争议。不过,那些举措究竟对于缩小贫富差距产生了怎样的效果,目前得到的信息都是由重庆当局发布的,缺少中立的评估。另外,我们可以看到整个过程是在政府强势主导下进行的,其重点并非创造机会均等的市场逻辑。这种做法是否会带来财政决策中的失误,包括重庆所推行的农村土地政策的公正性,都是大可怀疑的。还有寅吃卯粮的隐忧,短期内的高投入讨好了民众,但是却需要未来付出巨大的代价。

Q2: Bo Xilai’s ouster is welcomed by liberals and reformists, and what do you think his fall means for China’s current stagnating political reform?I noticed in your post yesterday on sina weibo*) you commented that it has tremendous for political reform in China.Can you elaborate it more?

A: Bo Xilai’s removal means that the currently highest level of policymakers reject the use policies with similarities to the cultural revolution to solve problems within the system and within society. Obviously, the way Bo acted and publicized himself played a role, too. The reason why I believe that this event is important for China’s future is that it shows that in recent years, the once extremely powerful [unable to translate this – JR] 嚣尘上且颇具蛊惑力 traditonal socialist pattern has suffered negation within the CCP mainstream. This negation is very important, but the most important question for the future is about “affirmation”, i. e. what the contents of structural political reform [or reform of the political system] will be, and by which measures and strategies the designated goal will be realized. Chief state councillor Wen Jiabao constantly suggested structural political reform, and on certain occasions, he put forward some specific goals, such as elections, freedom of the press and judicial independence, etc., but the obvious conflicts between traditional socialist ideology with these kinds of democratic and rule-of-law values remain obstacles which are difficult to overcome. Besides, to get rid of the difficult situation [caused by] powerful interest groups constitutes a grave test.

答:薄之免职意味着,现在最高决策层拒绝用类似文革式政策解决制度与社会中的问题,当然,导致这样的结果也跟薄本人过于张扬的个性和做派有关。之所以我认为该事件对中国未来的发展意义重大,是因为它表明,近年来甚嚣尘上且颇具蛊惑力的传统社会主义模式遭受到中共主流的否定。这种“否定”非常重要,不过,未来最重大的问题仍在于“肯定”,那就是政治体制改革究竟包含怎样的内容,以及通过怎样的措施和策略实现设定的目标。温家宝总理不断地倡言政治体制改革,某些场合也提出过某些具体目标,如选举、新闻自由以及司法独立等,但是,传统社会主义意识形态与这类民主和法治价值之间的明显冲突仍是中共难以逾越的障碍。另外,破除权贵利益集团困局也是一个严峻的考验。

He’s comment seems to suggest that Wen Jiabao’s exit, scheduled to happen within less than a year, will neither spell the beginning, or the end of political reform. However, Ming Pao quoted He as saying that Wen should be considered a sincere promoter of political reform (雖然無說清內容,可能是「天機不可泄露」,但可以肯定他是一個真誠的政治改革推動者).

One reason as to why the international media didn’t make much of He’s comments may be that he is no insider, and not one of the CCP-leaning scholars who are – presumably –  occasionally used by the party to distribute statements which party officials don’t want to make themselves. By these standards, there is nothing revealing in He’s comments, but they do seem to offer some perspective – beyond the Hu Jintao / Wen Jiabao years.

I’m not suggesting that affirmation (of new values) is going to succeed the negation of the traditional-socialist ones. He isn’t doing that either – he refers to change management as a grave test (一个严峻的考验). However, while the step after “negation” – i. e. affirmation of new values – is one He would like to see, the party is likely to feel more comfortable with the dcoumented bottom-line the incoming and outgoing leaders seem to have agreed to, in October 2011 or some time earlier. In short, I believe a limbo between what He defines as negation (of old values) and affirmation (of new ones) is the most likely status for the coming years.

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Note

*) A Sina Weibo re-post by He on March 14 local time, concerning the changes to the criminal code passed by the “National People’s Congress” on March 14, was reprtedly censored some time later.

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Related

» Lacking Substance, China Post, March 25, 2012
» The original Deutsche Welle report (as republished on Wenxue City), Deutsche Welle, March 24, 2012
» Reform or Risk…, FOARP, March 14, 2012

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