Minqi Li: The division between the pro “free market” forces vs those who want some socialism grows more intense
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
In China, the powerful party secretary for one of the biggest cities, Chongqingâ€”his name was Bo Xilaiâ€”he was fired recently by the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. What does this tell us about the struggle within the party? And what might be the future of the party as a result of this struggle?
Now joining us is Minqi Li. Minqi is associate professor at the University of Utah, specializing in political economy and the Chinese economy. He was a political prisoner in China from 1990 to 1992. And he’s the author of the book After Neoliberalism: Empire, Social Democracy, or Socialism? Thanks for joining us, Minqi.
MINQI LI, ASSOCIATE PROF. ECONOMICS, UNIV. UTAH: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: So tell us the story. What happened? And then, what is the significance of this struggle?
LI: Well, what happened was that on March 15 the Chinese Communist Party announced this decision to remove Bo Xilai from his position as party secretary in the city of Chongqing. This is definitely a very significant political development. So it is the evidence that the division between the left wing and the right wing within the party has become quite deep. And as a result of this latest development, it appears that the right wing, or the part of the party that want to have more free-market capitalism in China, has won a significant victory.
JAY: Now, when you say left wing, right wing, when we read The New York Times and such, Bo Xilai is depicted as being sort of a, quote-unquote, old-school hardliner, but corrupt. They say he used the party’s state machinery to go after his enemies and such.
LI: Well, The New York Times might describe things like this, but in fact what has happened is that as a result of the growing contradictions both in the Chinese society and the Chinese economy, there’s growing division, both in interest and policy, within the Communist Party, which the right wing, led by people such as Wen Jiabao, who favor development of free market capitalismâ€”and, in fact, people like Wen Jiabao represent the most corrupt as well as the wealthiest elements within the Communist Party. The Wen Jiabao family itself is believed to have accumulated assets more than 100 billion Chinese yuan. And on the other hand, some other factions within the party believe that after so many years of capitalist development, what China needs now is some kind of redistribution from the rich to the poor. And they believe that will contribute to more stability, both for the party and to the economy and the society.
JAY: And so what were the policies of Bo Xilai that led to this confrontation?
LI: Well, he is famous for his policy of crackdown on the organized crime in the Chongqing city, and which also undermined the interests of some of the local capitalists that are affiliated with the local mafia. And by doing this crackdown on organized crime, Bo Xilai also promote a separate movement that he referred to as the “Singing Red Song” movement, where he used the red songs to promote some ideas that remind people of the Maoist era.
JAY: So these are songs from the Cultural Revolution period.
LI: From the Cultural Revolution, and also from the before-Cultural-Revolution period associated with the earlier Communist Revolution.
JAY: What’s an example of one of the songs?
LI: Well, such as “The [incompr.] Red”. And in addition to that, over the past several months Bo Xilai start to talk more and more about shared prosperity. And in the Chinese context, everyone understand by shared prosperity he is talking about redistributing income from the rich to the poor and from the capitalists to the workers.
JAY: And was thisâ€”in terms of his policies, was it real? I mean, the wayâ€”again, the way the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is painting it, as I see, through the eyes of reportage of the Western press is that this was more rhetoric on his part, that he used the kind of language of populism, but what was really happening is he was favoring his friends and harming his enemies.
LI: Well, I guess you cannot really find a politician in the world that does not do something that, you know, favors his or her own friend. But in the Chongqing case at least, Bo Xilai indeed arrested and sentenced some very powerful local organized crime that has prospered over the years before he arrived in Chongqing. And then that kind of policy has been very popular among the local population in Chongqing. So one development that is going on right now is what will be impact on the popular support of Communist Party as a result of this removal of Bo Xilai from his position in Chongqing.
JAY: Because he was popular in his area.
LI: He is, yeah, he is very popular in Chongqing, and also has been more and more popular among the lower social classes in China.
JAY: Now, just to back up to the story a little bit, there’s kind ofâ€”it was kind of a weird twist about how this came to a head. One of his deputies, I think it was, went to the U.S. embassy. What was that story about?
LI: Well, he, the person, Wang Lijun, was Chongqing’s local police chief. And so, apparently, he entered into the Chongqing consulate in Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan provinceâ€”I think it’s in the middle of February. And the details remain unclear, and now you have competing rumors. Now, according to one version of the story, what happened was that Wang Lijun, in addition to contributing to the crackdown on the local organized crime in Chongqing, started an investigation of Wen Jiabao’s wife, and possibly his son, and soâ€”you know, Wen Jiabao is China’s prime ministerâ€”about their corruption and the connections with business interests. And that in turn caused Wen Jiabao to send someone from the central government to arrest Wang’s assistants. And as a result, Wang become panicked, and then entered into the U.S. consulate in the local area. So that’s one version of the story. But there’s no way at the moment to verify whether that’s true or not.
JAY: Now, eventually he left the U.S. consulate and was arrested, and is now being held by the central government. Is that right?
LI: That’s true.
JAY: So does this represent a fight or struggle between one particular party secretary and the rest of the leadership? Or is this representative of broader division within the party? In other words, how much support does Bo Xilai have in the party?
LI: Before the incident, it was believed that Bo Xilai enjoyed significant support among the top leadership. Possibly five or six of the top nine leaders supported Bo Xilai’s policy. But now it appears that the right-wing enjoy a much stronger power base.
JAY: And so what’s happening now? Where is Bo Xilai? he’s been removed, but if I understand it correctly, he’s still a member of the broader Politburo. He’s been removed as party secretary. And then what? What happens next? He hasn’t been charged with anything criminally, right? So far it’s all been at an appointment level.
LI: He has not been charged, and you are correct that he is still a member of the 25-person Politburo, the second-highest decision-making body within the Chinese Communist Party. And now what exactly is happening to himself right now is unclear. There are some rumors saying he is safe, saying that he’s home in Beijing. Some other rumors suggest that he is already under house arrest. So we still need to wait and see.
JAY: And so if youâ€”looking into the future, the way this struggle will develop, what are your expectations? And are there any signs of anything more about this so far?
LI: Well, first of all, it appears that it has deepened the division within the party. And then, secondly, if the right wing has got the upper hand, they may proceed with their program of full-scale privatization and to privatize the remaining state-owned enterprises, and as a result, it might accelerate the arrival of China’s social and economic crisis, because this current policy of free market capitalism has become more and more unpopular among the Chinese population.
JAY: And because of why? I mean, we keep hearing tales and stories of growth, always ever seen ever expanding GNP and such.
LI: Well, of course, the official number keeps saying that China’s GDP is expanding rapidly, but 80 percent or 90 percent of the population probably do not feel that, partly because of the rising inequality, and then people’s perception that much of the wealth has been concentrated and the elites, and mostly in illegal or illegitimate means. And so there has been growing people’s resentments against this growing inequality, as well as the capitalist direction of development. And, actually, it’s because of that that Bo Xilai has enjoyed growing support, because of his discussion of the possibility of a more equally distributed income and wealth. And by removing Bo from his position, that, however, to a large extent has led many people to believe that it’s no longer possible to have internal reform within the Chinese Communist Party, and as a result, this trend towards inequality can no longer be checked. And if that is case, that will contribute to the arrival of economic and social crisis.
JAY: And is there any signs ofâ€”visible signs of support for Bo Xilai and demand for these kinds of reforms, either in terms of protest or within the press?
LI: In fact, yes. Not on the mainstream press, but it hasâ€”the support for Bo Xilai has been very strong in the internet. And, in fact, partly in response to that, several leading leftist websites in China have been shut down.
JAY: Well, thank you very much, Minqi. And we’ll continue to follow this story.
LI: Oh. Thank you very much.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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