Bo's downfall a blow to China's leftists

Thursday, March 22, 2012
By Peh Shing Huei,The Straits Times/Asia News Network

BEIJING --Their spiritual godfather Bo Xilai has fallen from favor, their websites blocked and some microblog accounts have even been unplugged.

All is not well for China's leftists — a neo-conservative group of officials, intellectuals and retired cadres who yearn for a return to the Maoist days of stronger government control of society.

Their major websites, such as Utopia, Redchina and Maoflag, were inaccessible for days after the ouster of Bo, 62, as Chongqing party secretary last Thursday. Even after being restored on Monday, many links remained erratic.

Microblog accounts have been blocked, including that of prominent leftist scholar Sima Nan, as they bemoaned the fall of Bo as an “anti-revolutionary coup.”

The shutdowns are signs, said observers, that the fortunes of this influential group are taking a sharp dip with the downfall of Bo.

“The blow is very big. If the Wang Lijun saga undermined the credibility of the leftists, Bo's fall meant the leftist movement has lost its strongest supporter and the best hope in the political establishment,” said Chinese politics analyst Li Cheng from the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Bo was ditched in a surprise move more than a month after his Deputy Mayor and Police Chief Wang Lijun fled to the United States consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, allegedly in an audacious Cold War-style political defection attempt.

The pair had reportedly clashed over corruption and nepotism allegations involving Bo's relatives, and Wang is believed to have feared for his safety.

Until their split, Bo and Wang had been poster boys of the country's leftists, putting into practice in Chongqing what were previously only largely theoretical musings.

Dismayed with rampant corruption, rising income inequality and the marginalization of former Chairman Mao Zedong in politics, they hit out against China's reforms and “opening up” policy.

They proposed a return to Mao-era policies, which they believe are more egalitarian, more secure and less corrupt.

Bo turned these ideas into reality. He cracked down on the mafia, re-romanticized Mao and gave preference to state enterprises.

But critics slammed him for ignoring the rule of law, trying to bring back the tragic Cultural Revolution and snuffing out private businesses.

“Some of the agenda of the leftists, like social justice and better income distribution, are worthy goals. But the tactics adopted in Chongqing do not speak well,” said analyst Yang Dali from the University of Chicago.

Nonetheless, Bo's work in Chongqing has become a model for the country, with growing strength and assertiveness from state businesses, for instance, at the expense of private enterprises.

Within China, there are strong fears that three decades of reform and opening up could be rolled back by the ascendancy of the leftists.

All that remained was for Bo to ascend to the elite Politburo Standing Committee this autumn during the leadership transition.

That did not happen — ending what could have been a marked tack to the left in Chinese politics and a re-emergence of radicalism.

Worried about the strong leftist tide, Premier Wen Jiabao said last week that China must press ahead with reforms or risk a repeat of the Cultural Revolution.

With the fall of Bo, a counterwave is happening. There were three clear signs in recent days.

On Sunday, Vice Premier Li Keqiang said China cannot delay tough economic reforms, and that the country has reached “a crucial period.”

The head of China's top economic planning body, Zhang Ping, added on the same day that China will open up key industries, including railways, finance, public utilities, energy and telecommunications, to private investors.

Lastly, Wenzhou city, the hub of private enterprises in China's Zhejiang province, has been given the green light to expand financing channels for small- and medium-sized enterprises, according to the local media last Saturday.

This came after persistent complaints in recent years that private companies have been starved of credit while banks happily extend cheap loans to state-owned enterprises.

The good times of the leftists look to be over. But they will come back, said Li. “(The leftists) will look for — and reassemble under — another heavyweight political figure in the months to come.”

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