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
     Previous    
    by: Lily
    May 01, 2012 9:19 PM
    That is so not true~
         

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora