Bo Xilai Sacking Reflects Reformists Prevailing Over Conservatives

The reform-minded faction of China’s ruling Communist Party, led by Wen Jiabao, prevailed over the conservative faction led by former president Jiang Zemin to bring about the sacking of Bo Xilai from his post as Communist Party chief of Chongqing municipality, according to Hong Kong’s Apple Daily.

China is essentially ruled by a nine-member Politburo Standing Committee comprising President Hu Jintao, Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, next president Xi Jinping, next premier Li Keqing, He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang.

The Jiang Zemin faction saw the Wang Lijun incident as an internal matter, while Hu Jintao, Wen and Li Keqiang insisted that Bo be dealt with according to the law. He Guoqiang, who had been seen as pro-Jiang, shifted his position to support Wen. At the last minute Xi Jinping also sided with Wen to tilt the balance in favor of reformists.

The war between the Jiang and Hu factions started long ago, said Zhang Zhiyuan, a prominent figure in Beijing cultural circles. Some netizens described the conflict as a Zhongnanhai coup after rumors of a lockdown and even gunfire on the streets of the capital on Monday evening.

When Wang Lijun, Chongqing’s former police chief, sought to claim political asylum at the US consulate in Chengdu in February, the Politburo Standing Committee assembled at the Zhongnanhai compound to decide how to deal with a hugely embarrassing scandal, said Yang Haipeng, a famous reporter.

The incident was obliquely referred to in Wen’s closing address to the National People Congress (NPC) on March 14. After that speech, Bo and 37 of his close family and associates were reportedly arrested and detained somewhere in Hebei province.

The struggle between the Hu-Wen clique and the so-called Crown Prince Party comprising “princelings” Bo Xilai and Jia Qinglin began years ago, noted independent Beijing scholar Gao Yu. Jiang Zemin and some of his cronies became unhappy with the direction taken by Hu and Wen, providing an opening for the princelings to seek to make their move for this year’s leadership change. But now that Bo has fallen, the center of power has clearly shifted to the more reform-minded Hu-Wen faction.

The degree of control that Hu will be able to exert over the leadership transition late this fall remains to be seen, says Gao. So far former president Jiang Zemin has stayed relatively quiet in the power struggle, but still retains enough influence to sway the course of events to come.