For decades, China’s rulers have successfully convinced foreigners to pay no attention to the men behind the curtain; now the Bo Xilai saga is tearing down that curtain completely. The latest bombshell comes from the New York Times, which has revealed that Bo ran an extensive wiretapping operation that included top Communist Party officials. Not even President Hu Jintao was safe from Bo’s prying ears. The Times dug up this news after talking to “nearly a dozen people with party ties.” Chongqing’s former police chief, Wang Lijun—the man responsible for setting in motion the chain of events that led to Bo’s undoing—apparently confirmed the wiretapping scheme to Beijing.
Until this latest revelation, many had assumed that Bo’s downfall was the result of his wife’s involvement in the murder of Neil Heywood, a British businessman and “fixer” for for the Bo family who was allegedly poisoned in his Chongqing hotel room last November. And while Heywood’s death will remain the central narrative in the Party’s official account of Bo’s ouster, the wiretapping in particular is reported to have roused top officials. The murder merely provided a pretext for the apparatchiks who had been looking to bring down Bo for some time.
The case is revealing all kinds of things the leadership desperately wanted to keep hidden. Notes the Times:
To maintain control over society, leaders have embraced enhanced surveillance technology. But some have turned it on one another—repeating patterns of intrigue that go back to the beginnings of Communist rule.
“This society has bred mistrust and violence,” said Roderick MacFarquhar, a historian of Communist China’s elite-level machinations over the past half century. “Leaders know you have to watch your back because you never know who will put a knife in it.”
Despite the turmoil unleashed by the scandal, some China watchers think that the country may have averted an even more damaging crisis down the road. Bo was ruthless, charismatic and very popular in Chongqing. He was also paranoid, vain and hungry for a higher posting. Thankfully, those hopes have been dashed — unless the future holds new surprises. The past three months have exposed Bo’s Chongqing as a terrifying example of exactly what one possible future for China could look like.