A senior Chinese communist party leader who dispatched armed forces to a U.S. consulate to head off the defection of a former police chief was shown on state-run television this week, a sign he has survived allegations of corruption.
Bo Xilai, Communist Party leader in China’s Chongqing city, was shown attending a meeting of the ruling Politburo and sitting next to a senior military official.
Bo was the target of corruption allegations from Wang Lijun, a former Public Security Bureau chief in Chongqing. On February 6, Wang spent the night at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu and, according to a U.S. official, supplied documents to consulate officials.
To stop Wang’s defection, Bo sent large numbers of armored personnel carriers and security agents to the Chengdu consulate, in southern China.
The standoff ended after Wang’s appeal for asylum at the consulate was turned down by the White House over concerns the defection would disrupt relations with China on the eve of the U.S. visit by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping.
A Beijing-based senior official of the Ministry of State Security, China’s civilian intelligence service, eventually escorted Wang from the consulate. That official and Wang were confronted as they attempted to leave by a Chongqing security official who sought to arrest Wang.
The political drama highlighted a major divide within the senior ranks of the Chinese Communist Party that is pitting anti-U.S., nationalist communists like Bo and members of the Chinese military against more economic-reform-minded Communists under President Hu Jintao.
Bo’s appearance at the Politburo meeting was broadcast Tuesday evening on a program called Xinwen Lianbo, a nationwide news program produced by China Central Television (CCTV), the communist-controlled media outlet.
The television appearance followed reports in China that Bo was likely to be arrested or sacked as a result of the allegations put forth by Wang, who until recently was considered a crusading anti-corruption investigator in Chongqing.
According to U.S. officials, Bo Xilai is the most visible of a new style of anti-American nationalist communists who feel China’s economic reforms since the 1980s have turned the system away from its roots in Mao Zedong’s brand of Marxism-Leninism.
Bo has used his leadership over the Chongqing municipal government during the past three years to launch a neo-Maoist political campaign called “Singing Songs, Studying Classics, Telling Stories, and Spreading Slogans” also known as the Red Campaign.
After becoming party chief in late 2007, Bo has become the closest China’s system has to a populist, western-style politician. By contrast, most other Chinese leaders maintain carefully scripted public profiles and seek obscurity while portraying themselves outwardly as cautious bureaucrats.
According to U.S. officials, the attempted defection of Wang Lijun triggered a debate in American intelligence circles over divisions within the senior Chinese leadership. Some analysts say the neo-Maoists and nationalists are in danger of taking over China and turning the government against the Untied States. Other say the idea of a split is false and that suggesting there are divisions is dangerous.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to become China’s president later this year, visited Chongqing and praised the Red Campaign, an indication that many in Beijing’s ruling Politburo Standing Committee, the nine-member collective dictatorship that rules China, approve of Bo’s populism.
However, Wang’s attempted defection has prompted speculation among China specialists that the affair was orchestrated by Beijing officials opposed to Bo and the Red Campaign, fearing it will create new instability and plunge China into a new turmoil reminiscent of that seen in the 1960s and 1970s.
Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, considered one of the most powerful anti-U.S. nationalists in the Chinese leadership, visited Chongqing at the time of the Wang visit to the consulate. During an earlier visit to Chonqing, Zhou called the Red Campaign “an effective vehicle for strengthening the ideological education of cadres and performing effective mass work” and suggested taking the campaign nationwide.
The campaign seeks to glorify Communist culture by praising current and former communist revolutionaries, and has echoes of Mao’s disastrous Cultural Revolution when he unleashed Red Guards to attack Party officials, teachers, and other intellectuals in China who were labeled reactionaries and killed, imprisoned, or sent to remote rural areas.
The city government organized mass rallies where those attending would sing songs like “Oh Party! Dear Mother," and "Without the Communist Party There Would Be No New China."
Another example of the campaign was Chongqing TV's (CQTV) becoming the first “red” television station. Last year, it had one program called “Close as Fish and Water,” an old slogan that described the Party and People’s Liberation Army and its relation to the Chinese people. An August program highlighted China’s war against “U.S. aggressors” during the Korean War.
The campaign was successful in reaching millions of Chinese and is part of the current leadership’s effort to replace flagging support for communism with nationalist fervor.
Over 100 million “red text messages” also were sent to mobile phone users as part of the campaign, along with thousands of storytelling sessions that lavished praise on communist exploits.
U.S. officials estimate the cost of the campaign to be more than $40 billion in lost workdays by staff that took part in the mass rallies. CQTV also lost tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue as a result of propaganda programming.
Not all the news outlets in China supported the campaign. A Chinese academic journal reported in July that the red song campaign was “unscientific and inhumane.” A commentary in the journal stated that China is “no longer living in the 1950s,” and it criticized reports that children had refused to attend a parent’s funeral in order to attend a red song concert and that childless married couples had become fertile after singing red songs.