As more detail seeps around The Great Firewall Beijing masters once thought would suppress all dissident China blogging — and contradictory explanations emanate from Party sources — the case of Bo Xilai and his wife becomes all too familiar.
For those who have tried to follow happenings over the past two decades since Maximum Leader Deng Xiaoping pontificated, “to get rich is glorious”, there’s been the constant spectacle of officials looting the public treasury and government companies and banks. Not only has a bloated elite made every European luxury goods producer increasingly dependent on Shanghai and Beijing boutiques.
But discoveries of Party higher-ups sending money abroad — often along with their children to expensive Oxbridge and Ivy League schools — is all too familiar, however unsatisfactory government media accounting of the final determination of such affairs.
Among the many Chinese statistics we cannot rely on is flight of capital — although we do get proof of continued hemorrhaging of that other model for state capitalism, Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But anecdotally we know hundreds of millions, probably billions, have been socked away overseas — sometimes accompanied into exile by their owners. [One couple formerly running a provincial bank sought U.S. political asylum after Chinese authorities asked their extradition accusing them of stealing tens of millions — before they turned up in Vegas. Where else!] Nor is it entirely clear whether one of Deng’s sons is not one of these chaperons of looted cash holed up in San Francisco.
The vaunted exploits of Bo, the former gauleiter of Chongqing, a Princeling, an offspring of one of the Eight Immortals of the Chinese Communists’ rise to power, are now rapidly turning into non-history. Not for the Chinese Communist Party, Stalin’s notorious public “Show Trials” of the 1930s against “enemies of the people”. Those who fall from grace in China’s monopoly Party quietly disappear — if not among the notoriously large numbers executed, far more than all the rest of the world combined. [Beijing has promised an end to the now acknowledged sale of executed prisoner’s body parts.]
Not only has Bo been removed from his Party positions, but his wife has been accused of helping [with a “butler” right out of Mary Roberts Rinehart] knock off a former British commercial partner.
At the time London didn’t protest — his Chinese wife living in Beijing was hardly in a position to do so — when he turned up dead in a Chongqing hotel room, first diagnosed as a victim of alcoholism although he didn’t drink, and then of a heart attack with no record of cardiac disease. But now with Bo’s fall from grace, London is asking questions. Bo’s wife, a general’s daughter, and the talented British businessman apparently were a cabal to get their loot out to safer places than the nonconvertible yuan. That’s perhaps especially increasingly critical now China’s phenomenal growth is slowing and speculation of the “inevitability” of a rising yuan to dollar at some distant time when it would be convertible is receding.
That it was a family affair is reinforced by tales of the Bos’ son, tootling around Beijing in his red-hot Lamborghini, getting into a hassle with a traffic policeman when he dropped in on restricted parking near the American embassy residence, allegedly en route to a date with former U.S. Amb. Jon Huntsman’s adopted ethnic Chinese daughter. London Chinese Embassy officials allegedly helped him through Britain’s old-line Harrow despite his reputation for partying and his more recent enrollment at Harvard may also have had “assistance”.
Bling-bling [conspicuous consumption] in all ramifications is not, of course, a Chinese monopoly. Extravagant vacationing by the U.S.’s first family has led to justifiable criticism in a time of deep economic suffering.
Washington’s General Services Administration ironically was originally organized by President Harry Truman after his World War II Senate investigations of fraud, to more efficiently police government operations. Now it turns out, GSA has become sponsor of expensive “outings” for its personnel, a scandal posing some more serious governance question.
That personal corruption reached into the President’s Secret Service security detail in a dangerous foreign environment at a major international conclave goes beyond any routine concern with problems of waste and even corruption.
Is it then an era of worldwide bling-bling?
Comparisons are tempting, if obviously far fetched — if only by their differences in magnitudes.
Sol W. Sanders, (firstname.lastname@example.org), writes the ‘Follow the Money’ column for The Washington Times on the convergence of international politics, business and economics. He is also a contributing editor for WorldTribune.com and East-Asia-Intel.com.