News

    China's Domestic Security Scandals Expose Unchecked Local Power

    Bo Xilai, left, Chongqing's disgraced Communist Party leader, chats with Xu Caihou, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, at the People's Political Consultative Conference in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 3, 2010.
    Bo Xilai, left, Chongqing's disgraced Communist Party leader, chats with Xu Caihou, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, at the People's Political Consultative Conference in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 3, 2010.

    After the daring escape of a blind Chinese dissident from house arrest and a string of corruption allegations in Chongqing, some are questioning whether Beijing has given local officials too much autonomy over public security. Away from the watchful eye of the central government and contrary to nascent reform efforts, a culture of impunity has flourished.

    James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington says reports that former Chongqing Communist Party leader Bo Xilai wiretapped President Hu Jintao are plausible because Beijing has relinquished control of its surveillance and information technology to regional leaders.

    "Whether it’s wireless or a landline or Internet, you need to control those companies in some way," he said. "And that’s where the ownership and control of local networks, the security services, turns out to be the determining factor."

    Bo, the charismatic son of one of the Communist Party's founding fathers, forged powerful alliances with key telecommunications and security officials. Among the purported allies, according to the New York Times, was Fang Binxing, the dean of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and the so-called father of China's "Great Firewall."

    Domestic security

    The security apparatus in China is enormous. The country has dedicated about $110 billion to its domestic security budget this year, an even bigger pot than its defense spending. Keeping a close eye on the people has soared in importance as China’s citizens become more connected online, and more vocal offline about perceived injustice.

    Bo led the charge, receiving funding from the central government to turn Chongqing into a testing ground for China’s most advanced surveillance technology. He embarked on a heavy-handed crackdown on organized crime, while reviving Mao-era Communist songs in a campaign he called "sing red, smash black." Bo's police chief, Wang Lijun, oversaw the anti-crime activites that human rights groups say involved torture and the detention of thousands of wrongly accused suspects.

    The same wiretapping and surveillance equipment used in that campaign was used to monitor the activities of local officials and, according to the New York Times, President Hu in a phone call last August to an anti-corruption official visiting Chongqing.

    Culture of impunity

    Using covert means to compile information to bring down political rivals is as old a practice as politics itself - in China and just about every other country, including the United States.

    But rarely do you see such a high-level leader, like President Hu, under siege from such a mid-level, albeit influential, figure, like Bo.

    "You have a sense of impunity, particularly at the top of the party leadership and for those who are descended from revolutionary gods,” said Lewis. “You put the two together and you see things like this Bo story.”

    That impunity came to an end in March, when the government stripped Bo of key party posts and accused him of “serious disciplinary violations." His wife, Gu Kailai, faces murder allegations in the death of British businessman Neil Heywood.

    Loss of confidence

    Cheng Li, a China analyst with the Washington-based research group the Brookings Institute, says most Chinese do not feel like they’re living in a police state, but Bo's case and the story of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng, have rattled the public’s confidence in the system.

    “The system is now known for its police brutality and torture. It failed because it does not provide any security for the Chinese public in terms of the terrible violation of law. So that certainly is a wakeup call for the Chinese government,” he said.

    Bo couldn’t be any more different from Chen, the activist lawyer whose recent breakout from house arrest was the first news to push Bo from the headlines in weeks. But both knew intimately how Chinese officials can and will operate outside the rule of law.

    After Chen served four years in prison for damaging property and disrupting traffic, the lawyer and his family were then trapped in their own home. Local Shandong province officials blocked the road to his house, put bars on his windows and installed security cameras.

    An informal army of plainclothes thugs chased away visitors and, according to Chen's wife, severely beat and tortured both her and her husband. Human rights groups say local officials were punishing Chen for his work exposing forced abortions.

    U.S. officials say Chen left the U.S. embassy in Beijing on Wednesday to get hospital treatment and be reunited with his family. They say he received guarantees from China that he would be relocated to a "safe" location and allowed to attend university.


    Legal loopholes

    Beijing has not commented on Chen's case, nor has it acknowledged the reports of Bo's alleged wiretapping. But it has plastered state media reports of Bo's alleged corruption with pledges that transparency and the rule of law will be upheld.

    Which laws are being enforced is not as transparent, however. China has two legal systems: One of party discipline and the other of state law.

    Bo is being held under “shuanggui,” informal detention enforced by Communist Party disciplinary bodies outside the courts. His wife and Wang likely will face charges under the newly revised criminal procedure law. Chen was subject to house arrest that had no basis in Chinese law.

    Jacques deLisle, the director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, says the cases reveal the weaknesses in China’s legal system.

    “In fact, it works quite badly in highly politically charged cases, which includes both people who are characterized as dissidents or activists, such as Chen Guangcheng, who takes on misbehavior or human rights violations by state actors, and somebody like Bo Xilai, who is so far up in the chain that he faces essentially politically-driven sanctions,” he said.

    China at a crossroads

    DeLisle says the central government, concerned about social stability during a leadership transition, is at a crossroads.

    “So they’re facing a choice of restarting and resuming what had been stalled reform or doubling down on trying to keep things under control and keep tumult within the party and within society in check,” he said.

    President Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao will be transferring power to a new generation of leaders next year, after slow but steady efforts to clean up corruption and improve governance in the party ranks. The demise of Bo, who was expected to join the country's top leadership body, signals Beijing wants to steer away from the Maoist-style personality cult he propagated in Chongqing.

    Reconsidering Chen's fate, and holding Bo, his wife and his police chief accountable for alleged corruption, murder and abuse of power send a positive signal, says Cheng Li.

    “This potentially could be a landmark event for China’s civil rights movement,” he said, adding that the Communist Party has an opportunity to promote an independent legal system, and make its members answerable to the constitution.

    But the likelihood of massive reform during a political transition is unlikely, according to deLisle, who says it will take a couple years for China’s new leaders to reveal their policies.

    “I don’t think anybody thinks they’re going to start out of the gate being radical reformers, unless a crisis really forces that upon them," he said. "And so far, I don’t think we’re facing a crisis of that magnitude."

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 2
        Next 
    by: John
    May 02, 2012 10:04 PM
    the Communist party in China is highly in corruption and the officials just like to fight with each other for power,their leaders are all so impuissant that the country can't be a threat to any other countries ,and it also needs a very very long way to implement the democracy.

    by: John
    May 02, 2012 10:02 PM
    the Communist party in China is highly in corruption and the officials just like to fight with each other for power,their leaders are all so impuissant that the country can't be a threat to any other countries ,and it also needs a very very long way to implement the democracy.

    by: John Warren
    May 02, 2012 10:08 AM
    China is so prosperous that she can afford both domestic and overseas guns. They are in a major naval build-up now with the intent of putting pressure on surrounding countries like the Philippines. If the US lacks the muscle to meet this, we will lose all credibility. Much of our efforts to keep local wars from breaking out is our ability to form mutual defense pacts. Without the credibility to back up these promises, there will be local arms races and concurrent tensions.

    by: 慢慢
    May 02, 2012 7:49 AM
    The demise of Bo, who was expected to join the country's top leadership body, signals Beijing wants to steer away from the Maoist-style personality cult he propagated in Chongqing.

    by: kafantaris
    May 02, 2012 6:53 AM
    “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad man [as well].”
    -- John Emerich Edward Dalberg

    by: CG
    May 02, 2012 6:31 AM
    Go anywhere where a transaction occurs in America, and you'll see you're under surveilance. Whether its an ATM, a Walmart counter, a Kmart counter, a gas station pump, a bank teller, a restaurant register, it doesn't matter... you are under constant surveliance... and you don't notice it until you actively start looking for it. On the highways your tag is photographed; your locations tracked via credit card purchases, cellular phone records, and census data.

    by: Lopez
    May 02, 2012 6:30 AM
    Spending too much money on defense is what finally shut down the U.S.S.R., and they also paid a tremendous sum to monitor their own people. Still, PRC reminds me of the "Foundations" novels where the foundation gets everyone to depend on them so much that all others are trapped by what they need.

    by: freedom36
    May 02, 2012 6:27 AM
    Obama promissed for NO second position to US in his previos election campian.. And he did exactly what he promised, america is now at 2nd position after china. Immigrants inflow is dried up.. whatever US did for russia in cold war, US is now doing the same to themselves. congrats..

    by: James Chan
    May 02, 2012 6:26 AM
    Current news in China has an unexpected benefit: it teaches Americans Chinese history and culture in more of a fun, gossip-style than a mind-numbing, didactic style. What happened thousands of years ago are happening again.

    by: Jacques
    May 02, 2012 5:06 AM
    Barriers to entry, survival for the Communist party depends on their ability to bridge the divide betwenn foreign capital investement and domestic obstacles, resistence. Looks like just another attempt by Beijing to usurp traditional law with rule of law. How can you embrace democracy if you are afraid of a little competition and entrenched bureaucracy?
    Comments page of 2
        Next 

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora