A glimpse of the endgame of the power struggle

Catching a glimpse of the endgame of the power struggle through the news leak from Beijing
By He Qinglian on May 14, 2012 

On May 11, Japan’s Fuji Evening News published a shocking story: “Exclusive interview with Bo Xilai, the disgraced Chinese leader”. The report said that on April 26, Chinese state security agents arranged Keisuke Udagawa of Yamato Press to have dinner with the disgraced Bo Xilai under their watch.   

That was the first time Bo met with the outside world after he was placed under house arrest. The story was without doubt explosive, those who read it invariably found it shocking and incredible. Most were asking: firstly, why was Keisuke Udagawa chosen for a meeting that would not be possible under normal circumstances? Why did Beijing pick an entertainment media outlet that was not specialized in reporting political news, and not major British and American media or media from Hong Kong and Taiwan? Secondly, why was the interview that took place on April 26 published a half-month later on May 11?

For the first set of questions, Udagawa has provided answer in his article already. He himself has connections with Bo. In 1997, Udagawa was in charge of the legal works for MYCAL, a major supermarket group. At that time, MYCAL invested in Dalian, and Udagawa got to know Bo, then mayor of Dalian city. Later on, he signed an advisor contract with Gu Kailai, who was practicing law, and thus has ties with the Bos. In addition, Udagawa said in the interview that photographing and recording were not allowed in the meeting specially arranged by the state security agents. This remark was effectively saying that the readers could in no way obtain evidence to verify this meeting. And so, people could only determine the authenticity of the message based on the professional reputation of Udagawa and the media credibility of Fuji Evening News.

Because of the reasons above, other media outlets could not come to a unanimous opinion regarding the authenticity of the meeting even after they had gone through Udagawa’s personal qualifications; Yamato Press, the agency that Udagawa works for; and the circulation figures of Fuji Evening News and its taster of report. I myself found Udagawa’s twitter account and asked him if the Chinese government arranged his meeting with Bo or he personally requested it. He refused to answer, saying he was not willing to talk about that matter openly on twitter with a stranger. Later he said he could take interview, only that I have to use Japanese.

Ever since the Wang Lijun incident took place, all sorts of sensational and bizarre news emerged in succession, some of them had already exceeded the range of common sense. For example, the claim that Bo orchestrated the Dalian air crash in 2002 and the report that Wang Lijun retained a tiny piece of flesh—instead of hair or fingernail—as evidence of the Heywood murder case. In view of this, I figured analyzing the message this report conveyed would be better than focusing on a meeting that would require some time to prove or disprove.

Though the entire report was not long, it conveyed three important messages: in the report, Bo Xilai firstly rejected most of the scandals that were related to him; he did not deny the criminal behaviors of his wife Gu Kailai; he claimed that he and his wife were not in good relationship, and that he regretted not divorcing his wife earlier; secondly, he dismissed that there is power struggle, and said he was being retaliated against for his “hitting the black campaign” in Chongqing; lastly, he made the announcement that “I shall be back”.

These three statements, all very relevant to relieving Bo from his trap, could almost be said to represent the key wishes of those who support Bo, and had set up a platform for Party Central A to gracefully end this drama: by keeping a distance from his wife, Bo could significantly reduce the punishment that he would need to bear; by saying his downfall was caused by retaliation instead of power struggle, Bo did a face-saving act for Party Central A, it even lay the hidden/unnoticeable foundation for Bo to rise to power again.

In the history of the CPC, there were precedents of senior officials being left untouched by wrongdoings of their family. As tales had it, Jia Qinglin’s wife was deeply involved in the Yuanhua smuggling and tax evasion case, Jia redeemed hiself by divorcing his wife and retained his post, Chairman of the CPCCC National Committee and continued to enjoy the privileges that came with the title. Bo’s final remark: “I shall return” is effectively declaring “the return of the king”, a comment aimed to cheer up supporters of Bo.

The above story would not be something that that Japanese reporter Udagawa could fabricate. According to [the close examination of] a Japanese friend, Udagawa called his blog “Class C of news commentary”, the articles there, carrying a sense of humor rarely seen in Japanese, are mainly political commentaries about the Democratic Party of Japan, some of the entries are about China. Even so, there is no way he could fabricate a story with such degree of relevance. More importantly, Udagawa himself did not have the motive to make up this story, or to face the risk of losing his credential because of news fabrication. Hence, I would make a bold assumption: while the authenticity of Bo-Udagawa meeting still awaits verification, the key messages in that interview were supplied by relevant parties in China. Judging from the fact that those messages were favorable to Bo, the relevant parties behind this should be Party Central B.

There was one fact that caught my attention: before the news of Chen Guangcheng escaped was revealed on April 24, Party Central A fed information to foreign media through a person who identified himself as Wang Kang and several anonymous leakers. All the information they supplied were astonishing stories concerning Bo and Gu families. After the Chen Guangcheng incident held the international media spotlight, those leakers stopped their actions almost simultaneously. They told foreign media that they were instructed to stop talking.
Judging from the outcome of the Chen Guangcheng incident, Party Central B has gained the upper hand, the United States suffered the greatest setback in its diplomacy with China in recent years. In the afternoon of May 8, a pair of couple, villagers from Xiangcheng, Henan province attempted to break their way into the U.S. embassy together. On the following day, Jeffrey Bader, former director for Asian Affairs of the National Security Council, stated openly that “both China and the U.S. wish to do is not so much to re-adjudicate this case as to ensure that it does not become a model for future attempts to gain asylum at the U.S. embassy.

Right at the time when media attention on Chen Guangcheng began to fade, Udagawa wrote on May 11 an exclusive on his dinner with Bo Xilai more than a half month ago. A perfect timing: just a day before this article was published; Guangzhou’s Time Weekly ran an article about the network of capital owned by Gu Kailai’s elder sister. A number of websites reproduced that article, some of them have already been removed it. The article published in Fuji Evening News differentiated Bo and Gu politically, and produced a perfect response to the article appeared in Time Weekly.

Like I said before, this time the infighting of the CPC has not just erupted internally inside the Party; international media outlets were also used. After the article by Udagawa that made known Bo’s announcement that “I shall return” was published in Japan’s Fuji Evening News on May 11, Britain’s Financial Times ran the story, “Bo ally gives up China security roles”. The main points of that article were: according to three top officials in the Party and senior diplomats, Zhou Yongkang would transfer to Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu his control over state security apparatus. Zhou would not be openly removed from his position; he would keep his office until he officially retires this year. To publicly strip Zhou of his post would be very dangerous: as secretary of the Central Political and Legislative Committee, he keeps years of dark secrets of many other officials. The report said, senior officials revealed that Zhou was forced to carry out inspection on himself for his support of Bo Xilai, but remain active in the media.

The story would have been more convincing if it did not state that despite having lost his power and influence, Zhou remains active in the media. The Chinese people have grown accustomed to identifying who's in and who's out by checking the leaders whereabouts through the media. That sentence is tantamount to declaring in advance that Zhou's public activities are arranged only out the Party Central's considerations of stability, Zhou is undoubtedly out. But in fact, after the 18th National Congress of the CPC has commenced, Zhou will retire normally, so will Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, for that matter. Then could it be said that Zhou has suffered a major debacle because he has to transfer his power to Meng, which is nothing but a routine retirement procedure?

Tales about the Bo family that were released before April 20 aimed predominantly to discredit Bo; all those gossips favorable to Bo and not the CPC were dismissed as rumors (sayings that did not toe the line of the CPC). After that day, the gossips leaked took on another characteristic: they no longer refute any rumors, but deliberately make the water murkier.

Judging from all the information gathered, I could only come to one conclusion: Party Central A, with its access to all institutional resources in the party, the government and the military, tied with Party Central B, which has only got some non-institutional resources—the support of the Red second generation and elder princelings.

We would see the real outcome only after the personnel arrangement of the 18th National Congress of the CPC is finalized.