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June 23, 2017

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Ex-top cop's 'therapeutic leave' showcases Beijing melodrama

The Chinese government is silent as always. Except for saying that Wang is on "therapeutic leave" for overwork, it released next to no information concerning the former police chief and Bo, leaving the media with nothing but guess work and revelations from arcane signs such as how Bo's seagull-feeding session in his trip to Yunnan was covered by state media.

While China has become one of the most talked-about nations in the world nowadays, the discussions of the Chinese Communist Party, especially on its strong-handed approach to economy control and dissidence crackdowns, often fall to the illusion of it as an efficient monolith guided by a unified goal. The secrecy of the Chinese government helps create that image to conceal the court intrigue that is boiling underneath the apparently calm surface of Chinese politics.

While U.S. presidential candidates from the same party are calling names at each other on live TV and the president lays out his plans annually in the State of Union address, Chinese leaders follow the tradition of the politics of signs existing since imperial China. In such a tradition, the unspoken speaks more than speech and struggling for power through proxies is the name of the game.

There are two key points of interest in Bo's apparent crisis. The fact that Wang's dismissal happened at a time when Beijing has all the reasons to ensure a smooth transition of power indicates an insolvable fracture at the highest level. That in turn raises the risk of political upheaval in this important year for the Chinese government.

The possible expulsion of Bo — a leading figure of the "Chongqing model" of China development that highlights communist-style patriotism — from Beijing's inner circle might be read as a victory for the "Guangdong model" that emphasizes democratic reforms.

The world should no doubt watch closely to see whether Wang's dismissal is an indicator of Bo's fall from grace and whether such a fall is a sign of the pro-democratic camp's rise or is just the result of power play.

For Beijing, however, the event and the explosion of rumors that ensued show that secrecy can be more unsettling than open power struggle. If the mainland wants to create social stability, it should consider transparency as an asset.

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