Bo Xilai: Casualty of his own success?

Bo Xilai: Casualty of his own success? (Source: AP)

Guest post by Seongjin Ahn, analyst of China and South Korea. He can be followed on Twitter @sjamesahn.

China has no state religion but its party leaders still worship one belief above all: stability. As far as they are concerned, instability in all its forms – political, economic, social, domestic, regional, and international – poses a fundamental threat to the state’s capacity to be governed and, as groomed politicians of the CCP would argue, to exist as a unified state.

Last week the party’s endless quest to maintain stability is what drove the move to oust Bo Xilai, the former party chief of Chongqing, who was set to ascend to the Politburo Standing Committee before scandals brought him down. After Wang Lijun, Bo’s former police chief, sought refuge at an American consulate in February, Bo had to be taken out.  But how does this move affect political stability China?  Is the party leadership better off without the popular leader?

Even though the sacking of Bo invites a fair share of turmoil, international scrutiny, and potential disruption for the leadership transition this autumn, his removal shows the extent to which the party is willing to pursue long term stability, even if it means short-term uncertainty.  Removing Bo not only served to quell the brewing scandal unusual in Chinese politics, but it also has the added benefit of discarding a wildcard that may have introduced even more problems down the road.

The reality is that Bo, while popular, does not fit the profile of a Standing Committee member.  Although considered a princeling of revolutionary-era China, he is a far cry from being the poster child of a slowly liberalizing Chinese state. With a strong conservative Maoist lean, Bo’s ideologies contrast with the more liberal Dengist direction in which China has been headed.  In light of this, his wide popularity likely added to the unease felt by the likes of Premier Wen who publicly criticized Bo. Not to mention Bo’s antics (reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution), outspokenness (uncharacteristic of party leaders), and actions (which threatened private industry and were often judicially questionable) are inconsistent with the reserved, calculating, and often mysterious leadership styles that are typical of Standing Committee members.

Indeed the CCP would have wanted a completely smooth transition of its leaders without any political drama, but for the reasons mentioned it would have been risky to elevate someone like Bo in a position of significant power. Because when China’s stability is at stake, everything else must take a bow to preserve it.  Now, with Bo already shrinking in the rearview China’s government will continue to do what it does best without any foreseeable hurdles: maintain order.

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James is an analyst of political and economic security issues in East and Southeast Asia. He has experience in political risk analysis, and due to his interest in foreign direct investments held an investment consultant position at an emerging markets private equity firm in Asia. He graduated from New York University where received a Master's in International Business and Economics. There he held a policy internship at the United Nations Secretariat, drafted portions of the 2009 Secretary-General Report on Mine Action in 2009, and co-founded the Society of International Business and Development at NYU. He is an alumni of the Korean-American League for Civic Action and an avid Korea and China watcher.
Seongjin J. Ahn has 1 post(s) on Asia Security Watch