Experts are calling it China’s biggest political scandal since Tiananmen Square. But the downfall of Communist Party insider Bo Xilai remains shrouded in mystery, confounding the most seasoned China-watchers. Kojo explores the ongoing political fallout and asks what this means for China’s power structure and its economic relations with the rest of the world.

Guests

  • Geoff Dyer National Security Correspondent and former Beijing Bureau Chief, Financial Times
  • Chris Johnson Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; former China analyst for the CIA

Transcript

  • 13:06:45

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, Your Turn. Who do you think should be Mitt Romney's running mate? Anything left to say about the secret service scandal in Colombia and that GSA $800,000 meeting in Las Vegas? What's your take? All that, when it's Your Turn.

  • 13:07:19

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, it's a scandal involving privilege, poison and political downfall in China. The charismatic communist Politburo member Bo Xilai is ousted for unspecified violations of party discipline. His wife is arrested for allegedly murdering a British businessman who had personal and professional ties to the family. And their 24-year-old is a graduate student at Harvard who reportedly likes to party and drives a red Ferrari.

  • 13:07:48

    MR. GEOFF DYERExperts say the scandal is the biggest to rock China since the Tiananmen Square killings and offers a rare glimpse into how the nation's highest leaders enrich themselves and their families. But in a country that eschews openness, it's still hard to understand what's going on in Beijing or to predict the political and economic fallout from this scandal.

  • 13:08:11

    NNAMDIJoining us in studio to decipher all this is Geoff Dyer, National Security Correspondent and former Beijing Bureau Chief for the Financial Times. Geoff, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:22

    DYERMy pleasure.

  • 13:08:23

    NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Chris Johnson, Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's a former China analyst for the CIA. Chris Johnson, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:34

    MR. CHRIS JOHNSONHappy to be here.

  • 13:08:35

    NNAMDIIt's a conversation you can join by calling 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. What do you think this scandal says about China's Communist Party? 800-433-8850. Geoff, Bo Xilai was a rising star, the son of a revolutionary veteran and most recently the Communist Party's Secretary of Chongqing In recent years, he's become well known and popular in a country where very few politicians apparently try to impress the public. Why was he such a self-promoter? That's unusual in that political culture. How come?

  • 13:09:15

    DYERAbsolutely, it's very unusual. The context is that later on this year there'll be a big leadership shift in China and as I think of the standing committee, which is a committee of nine people that really run the country and Bo Xilai wanted to get a place on this standing committee. In 2007, he was sent into the back quarter to run the city called Chongqing in the center of the country. A lot of people thought it was a sideways move. He used this as a platform to basically launch a sort of election campaign. He tried to make himself effectively so popular that the party couldn't resist him. They would have to give him a slot on this committee.

  • 13:09:50

    DYERAnd he did this by going after a lot of organized crime in a very media savvy publicized sort of way. He's actually interestingly a journalism graduate, which is also quite unusual amongst the senior Communist Party people. And he did all sorts of other things that attracted a lot of attention. He started sending out text messages to people with famous Mao Tse-tung epithets. He started encouraging the singing of revolutionary songs, so he created this whole media-friendly campaign that both was very popular with people and got his name all over the place.

  • 13:10:19

    NNAMDIHow was he able, Chris Johnson, to go over the heads of the party apparatus to sell himself and his economic program directly to the people?

  • 13:10:28

    JOHNSONI think as Geoff just pointed out, the key to Bo's success was this sort of magnetism that he had. He had a very telegenic personality and some of this was built in as the scion of a revolutionary great from the revolution in China. He had a certain bearing that these princelings, as they're called, tend to have that is very self confident, sort of projects a right-to-rule kind of attitude and tends to lend itself to this sort of media savvy work. Also Bo had really refined this when he was in a lower level post in Northeast China in Dali and earlier in his career. And so by the time he got to Chongqing he was a real expert at it.

  • 13:11:05

    JOHNSONThe other piece is that Bo tended to emphasize in his public commentary things that resonated with the public. There's a huge ideological vacuum in China as the society has become heavily commercialized and with the sort of death of communist ideology, people were looking for something to cling to. And Bo's particular brand of public charisma was very attractive to them.

  • 13:11:26

    NNAMDIWho did he target -- you mentioned his campaign against organized crime. Who did he target in that high profile anticrime campaign and what were the results?

  • 13:11:35

    DYERWell, literally they looked up thousands of people in Chongqing over a couple of years. The initial targets were people involved in things like running illegal casinos. There was a very famous casino in Chongqing that was operating from a hotel across the road from the Chongqing Supreme Court. This was widely known to be going on but he got a lot of attention, a lot of popularity by going after some of these people.

  • 13:11:54

    DYERBut beyond that he seemed to broaden -- to have a much different territory. There are lots of people who just seem to have business disputes and a lot of people who are friends of Bo's who ended up getting caught up in this. And then very famously he went after a famous Beijing lawyer who had come to Chongqing to defend one of these gangsters. But Bo ended up actually prosecuting the lawyer himself. And that's when he really started to alienate a lot of the liberal opinion -- liberal leaders in Beijing who started to think that this guy was a dangerous character and they needed to take action against him.

  • 13:12:23

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about explaining the scandal in China. We're trying to understand the scandal in China with Chris Johnson, Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's a former China analyst for the CIA. Geoff Dyer is National Security Correspondent and former Beijing bureau chief with the Financial Times. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to kojo@wamu.org. Send us a Tweet at kojoshow or simply go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there.

  • 13:12:57

    NNAMDIBo's signature economic policy was called the Chongqing model which promoted a more equitable distribution of wealth. How did that work?

  • 13:13:06

    JOHNSONWell, again, this is something where there was probably a larger dose of populism than reality to what Bo was doing. But it was very much a contrast to the policies that have been pursued by the central leadership for some time emphasizing economic growth, you know, sort of at all costs. And this line that what they needed to do of course was focus on creating a bigger cake. Baking a bigger cake was the sort of catch phrase that was used before they re-divided it.

  • 13:13:31

    JOHNSONWhereas Bo was saying, no, we've had 20 years of strong economic growth in China. The people deserve to have the benefits that we've already achieved redistributed amongst them now. And this resonated very strongly among the public. I think the other piece that he was focused on were things like housing reform and social security reform, things that were very popular among the public because these are things that the Communist government has not done the best job of doing, as they have sort of emphasized this growth-at-all-cost type model.

  • 13:14:00

    NNAMDIBut he was also emphasizing, Geoff Dyer, it seems more state investment in infrastructure, which tended to go back to more like the socialist model.

  • 13:14:09

    DYERWell, and economic policy is really quite a complex mix. On the one hand he tried to lure foreign investment to Chongqing, which is not something you'd associate with a leftist statist friend. But he also did manage to get -- use his contacts really in a political system to get lots of money into Chongqing to build an infrastructure and build up other public projects so that, you know, everything you've seen going in China in terms of economic growth. And last decade it was going on on steroids in Chongqing over the last few years. It really was going gangbusters.

  • 13:14:34

    NNAMDIAnd when I say the socialist model, can you explain Bo's so called red revival campaign? Why was he pushing Mao era songs and slogans? Did he really want to return to the era of Chairman Mao Tse-tung?

  • 13:14:48

    DYERSome people have suggested that, but to me, actually this was really code language. To a lot of people in China, this nostalgia for the Mao era are not because of the way the country was governed, but because they see this as a less corrupt era where public officials are not brazenly trying to enrich themselves in the way that some people are today.

  • 13:15:06

    DYERAnd so by singing these revolutionary songs and sending out these Mao text messages he was trying to appeal to that type of nostalgia. And so it was really actually part of the political marketing of his anticorruption campaign.

  • 13:15:17

    NNAMDIIf Bo's story is one of political downfall, the story of his wife's arrest could be straight out of an international crime novel. She's accused of killing a British businessman named Neil Heywood. What do we know about the alleged murder?

  • 13:15:32

    JOHNSONWell, we don't know very much so far other than what the regime has officially announced. But it is clear that Madame Gu had some business relations...

  • 13:15:40

    NNAMDIGu Kailai.

  • 13:15:40

    JOHNSON...Gu Kailai, correct, had some business relations with Mr. Heywood. And the regime has also announced that Bo's son, Bo Guagua, may have had some sort of relationship with him. And it's also clear that those business relations soured in some way or another. And what is alleged is that they used a family retainer of the Bo family to murder Mr. Heywood. So these are very serious charges and something that really we haven't seen in Chinese politics since the Cultural Revolution period, where for the first time you're seeing them go after not only a senior leader himself, but also the extended family. And that's a new development here.

  • 13:16:13

    NNAMDIIndeed Heywood's death in 2011 was initially blamed on natural causes. How did the focus shift to Gu Kailai?

  • 13:16:22

    DYERWell, that -- the beginning of the downfall for Bo Xilai seems to have been in February when his former police chief disappeared from Chongqing and appeared in a city 200 miles away called Chengdu and actually walked into the American consulate there. In some reports he asked for asylum but certainly he spent the best part of a day there and ended up being arrested by the police from Beijing rather than police from Chongqing. And during that time he apparently did tell the Americans a lot of these stories. And particularly he blamed Gu Kailai for the death of Neil Heywood.

  • 13:16:53

    NNAMDII wanted to pursue that for a second because Wang Lijun, who was the Vice Mayor and Police Chief of Chongqing, you mentioned he went into the American consulate. Why? Why the American consulate do you think?

  • 13:17:06

    DYERHe seems to have fallen out with Bo Xilai probably over this investigation of his wife's involvement with the murder. There are lots of different explanations. One is that he genuinely did want to get asylum. Another explanation is he just wanted to get away from the Chongqing police to find a place of refuge. He stayed in the Beijing -- in the American consulate for the best part of a day and managed to arrange for the police from Beijing to come down and pick him up essentially to guarantee his safe assurance. It's equivalent of the feds coming along rather than being wrapped up by the local police in some sort of, you know...

  • 13:17:37

    NNAMDIWhat did he reveal about Bo and his wife and their alleged crimes, as far as we know, Chris?

  • 13:17:42

    JOHNSONAll I can speculate on that is, you know, what we've seen in the media cases so -- or in the media accounts so far. Obviously, you know, the State Department hasn't released a whole lot of information given the sensitivity of the issue and the intense media scrutiny. But it appears that he didn't offer anything of too tremendous value. And as Geoff was just pointing out, the goal all along probably was simply to secure his freedom and to get himself back to Beijing where he could get away from these local security officials, that he himself had been one of at one time and knew what they were capable of.

  • 13:18:12

    NNAMDIWell, Bo's wife allegedly had business dealings with Heywood that went awry. How does her story offer I guess what would be a rare glimpse into the ways top Communist Party officials and their families have been able to enrich themselves?

  • 13:18:27

    DYERWell, we are starting to find out all these details about the extended Bo family. You know, there's the son at Harvard who's paying the education that costs about $70,000 a year when Bo's official salary is about $1500 a month. So they have to have money from somewhere. But actually the extent of their wealth seems to be way beyond that. A report suggesting that the extended Bo family's now worth maybe $130 million, maybe $160 million.

  • 13:18:50

    DYERAnd essentially over the last couple of decades through their connections to Bo Xilai lots of different relatives have got positions in very important state-owned companies, got big share option packages from those companies and over a period of time accumulated really quite fantastic sums of wealth.

  • 13:19:05

    NNAMDIYes. I've been reading more and more about how extended the family really is but I'd like to refocus on the son for a second, Chris Johnson, because both sons seem to be an example -- and his name is Bo Guagua. He seems to be an example of the kind of opulence among prominent families that makes the Chinese people angry. He attended Oxford. He's now a grad student at Harvard. He reportedly drives a red Ferrari or was certainly seen driving one. How has this 24-year-old affected his father's political fortunes?

  • 13:19:34

    JOHNSONWell, it's definitely been a key element of the case and doesn't help as Bo is trying to shield himself from all of this scrutiny that he's under. But it does peel back the cover on the lives that the children of these senior officials are living. And, you know, there are many of them in the United States. There are many of them in Europe. They live very prominently a lot of the time, although I suspect that's going to start to change as a result of this case.

  • 13:19:57

    JOHNSONBut it's a good reminder of how the Chinese political system works. And the regime has to be very careful about how they handle this going forward because, of course, in 1989 during the Tiananmen demonstrations one of the things that touched off the initial demonstrations was exactly this type of situation, frustration among the public with a corruption and cronyism that they saw among the children of these senior leaders. And that, on a scale compared to now, was very, very minimal. These folks are everywhere. And as Geoff pointed out, they often find themselves sitting on the boards of these state corporations or opening a private equity firm or opening an internet-based firm and making tremendous amounts of money.

  • 13:20:31

    NNAMDI800-433-8850's the number. We're gonna take a short break, but we're still taking your calls. 800-433-8850. Are you surprised to learn that family members of top party officials are making lots of money in China? 800-433-8850 or send us an email to Kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:22:30

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on the current scandal in China involving former Politburo member Bo Xilai. We're talking with Chris Johnson, freeman chair in China studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's a former China analyst for the CIA. And Geoff Dyer is national security correspondent and former Beijing Bureau Chief with the Financial Times. Some people say that Bo's ouster is a victory for China's so-called reformers and a defeat for the rival group that Bo championed, the so-called New Leftists. What are the politics of these two groups and how will the scandal affect their influence?

  • 13:23:09

    DYERWell, this is still the big question. We don't quite know yet if whether this is really a scandal about who's running China or whether how China's going to be run over the next few decades. Up until now my inclination has been that this has really been about personalities that's been jockeying for position to get onto the top-standing committee in the next round of the leadership. And that this guy Bo Xilai had made so many enemies along the way that they essentially ganged up and brought him down to get him out of the running.

  • 13:23:36

    DYERBut it is also possible that this could be part of a much broader political debate within the Communist Party between leftists who want a greater role for the state, a much stronger role for the party and what we call the liberals or reformers who want to introduce at least some kinds of political reform, be more rule of law and a little bit more accountability for the party. I think, actually, the key thing to watch now over the next few weeks is will it happen to another person.

  • 13:24:00

    DYERThe rumors are that there is a guy that is now on the standing committee called Zhou Yongkang, he's essentially the police chief of China. The rumors are that he is now about to be wrapped up in this scandal. He is, if you like, the leading member of the leftist faction, if you can say such a thing in Chinese politics. He's been responsible for a big crackdown on human rights lawyers over the last few years. He's been influential in the crackdown on the internet and banning Facebook and Twitter.

  • 13:24:25

    DYERIf this guy really does get toppled, then that will indicate that actually the reformers are in ascendancy and then this is really part of a much broader political struggle and it's not just about personalities and jockeying.

  • 13:24:35

    NNAMDIWhat is your own analyst, Chris Johnson, or observation?

  • 13:24:39

    JOHNSONYeah, I think definitely it's the case that this opens an opportunity for the liberal wing of the party that they haven't had really since the Tiananmen crackdown. They've been slowly shrinking in influence. The most senior members associated with the liberal wing, basically they're down to their Premier now, Wen Jiabao. And he's what passes for, you know, a sort of exciting reformer at this point. He's actually a fairly vanilla person.

  • 13:25:01

    JOHNSONBut it's interesting to see how this is going to shakedown within the leadership. There certainly so far has been a fairly strong signal from the leadership, however, to that sort of more reformist grouping within the leadership that this is not to be seen as open season on the leftist wing, you know, within the party. They've emphasized in their official editorials, for example, so far the need to emphasize stability and to get back down to the business of economic development within China.

  • 13:25:26

    JOHNSONOn the Zhou Yongkang rumors, yeah, this would certainly take the case to a very different level if they were to go ahead and proceed against him. And that's because right now they've stopped at the Politburo level. To go up to that next highest rung of the …

  • 13:25:39

    NNAMDIWhich is the Ram Politburo.

  • 13:25:40

    JOHNSONRight. Right. So the…

  • 13:25:40

    NNAMDINine persons.

  • 13:25:41

    JOHNSONRight. The Politburo Standing Committee, that's the very top of the leadership. And that would be breaking the sound barrier in a very unique way, in terms of how they pursue these cases. And the fact, actually, that there was a very prominent speech made by Zhou Yongkang that was published this morning in People's Daily suggests that the leadership is trying to calm these rumors that they're going to oust him.

  • 13:25:58

    NNAMDIHow about the possibility, some would argue likelihood, that Bo's downfall may help stabilize China's economy by unifying the ruling Communist Party before the leadership transition this fall, Geoff?

  • 13:26:11

    DYERWell, it is possible that his ouster is part of a sort of elite consensus. Essentially, before they tumbled him the various leaders got together and they really agreed that he was someone who was personally a bit dangerous and so they needed to get him out of the way, but it was all part of this sort of grand bargain with the different factions coming together. And actually, what you'll see is a much more stable united Communist Party.

  • 13:26:31

    DYERBut I have to say that, you know, looking at these things from a distance, you know, we can speculate about what's really going on, but the striking thing to me is really still how little we know about elite politics in China. So many things in China have changed in the last 20, 30 years. It's so much more open society, the economy's so much more open than it was, but at this very top level of politics it still is absolutely a black box. And we're getting a glimpse inside it through this Bo Xilai case, but there's so much that we still don't really know.

  • 13:26:55

    NNAMDISo much still murky. What do you think? 800-433-8850. This scandal, what do you think it says about China's Communist Party leadership? 800-433-8850. Chris Johnson, how have the Chinese people reacted to Bo's fall from political grace?

  • 13:27:12

    JOHNSONWell, it's obviously has generated tremendous interest among the public, largely because he was such a public figure. And also because, you know, as Geoff just mentioned, things are so non-transparent in the Chinese political system. And, of course, so far all their regime has really put out there officially is that he's charged with serious violations of party discipline. So there's a yearning among the public to know more about what's behind all this. Of course, you know, they've given out some more details about the wife's possible involvement in this alleged murder, but it's caused a huge sort of furor across the Chinese public.

  • 13:27:44

    JOHNSONAnd then here's where their leadership is increasingly confronting social media, things like Facebook, things like Twitter and the internet.

  • 13:27:50

    NNAMDIHow did that help? How did social media and the internet help spread the word of this scandal among Chinese?

  • 13:27:55

    JOHNSONWell, like everything else in China, you know, it's a very rumor-based society. Nothing moves quickly in China like a good rumor. And it really did catch fire very, very quickly. And again, in the absence of any official commentary on these things, the population tends to speculate. And the internet, of course, fuels all that and allows people to be able to do this. The other thing that was very interesting about this case is they have the ability to shut this down very quickly when they want to, but the leadership let it play at the beginning for a little while.

  • 13:28:22

    JOHNSONAnd I think that was for two reasons. One, they were trying to not only throw Bo into the swimming pool, but hold him under the water to make sure that they were ending his political career. But then secondly, I think it was an issue where they were trying to gauge public reaction to their decision. You know, Bo was very popular with the public. And they were concerned about a possible backlash.

  • 13:28:41

    NNAMDIWhat is the big picture here, Geoff? Did this scandal help us to understand the inner workings of the Chinese government any better or any more than we did before?

  • 13:28:50

    DYERTo me, the big picture as (unintelligible) we've become accustomed in the last decade or so to thinking of China as this just relentless juggernaut. It grows 10 percent every year. Its power just keeps on expanding. Its influence keeps on expanding. And we just think of it as if it's just keep on getting more and more powerful. But here we're seeing, actually, that the political system is potentially very, very vulnerable. Since the Communist took over in 1949 there's only been one peaceful leadership transition and that was the one 10 years ago.

  • 13:29:14

    DYERThis was supposed to be the second. And already it's exploded in this huge political earthquake. So actually what we're really seeing here is that behind all the stories about expansion of China and the rise of China, we're beginning to get a sense of the deep vulnerabilities that still exist in the Chinese political system.

  • 13:29:29

    NNAMDIChris?

  • 13:29:30

    JOHNSONNo. I would agree with that. And I think that, as was highlighted in a world bank study in February, China really is approaching another key inflection point in its political and economic transformation. And as that report highlighted, the government needs to make some changes if they're going to kind of continue to ride this tide. There's a very sort of common sense out there among China observers that they have juiced the system, you know, as much as they possibly can. And that in order to be able to continue to have strong economic growth and to develop themselves to the next level, they do need to take certainly more economic reforms and a lot of people are arguing can comment on political reforms.

  • 13:30:04

    JOHNSONThe issue of course will be the leadership now is, of course, facing the classic authoritarian dilemma. Do they loosen up and, you know, bravely more forward and take these steps or do they retrench? And so far they're signaling that they intend to take the latter approach.

  • 13:30:18

    NNAMDIGot an email from Jonathan in Washington. "Wasn't Bo Xilai somewhat popular in America with many of our politicians? I believe he even lived in the Midwest as an exchange student. Did that have anything to do with making him unpopular with his party? How much of his disgrace is because he was actually trying to take down corrupt officials?" Geoff Dyer?

  • 13:30:40

    DYERCertainly he had made himself very unpopular with party leadership partly through his style of doing politics, but also, actually, by some of the corruption company. And he essentially embarrassed a lot of the party leadership because he was seen to be much more successful going after corrupt people in the system then the other members of the leadership. And in fact, there's one big irony here, is that the guy on the Standing Committee now who runs the party discipline unit, the guy is essentially prosecuting Bo Xilai, he is a former party secretary in Chongqing.

  • 13:31:10

    DYERAnd he's one of the people that Bo Xilai directly embarrassed by going after all these gangsters in Chongqing because the implication was the leaders that had been there previously didn't do anything about it and just brushed it under the carpet. So in a sense getting a bit of inner party revenge is being played out through this.

  • 13:31:26

    NNAMDIWhat I'm inferring from this email from Jonathan, is that Bo may have been seen by -- especially some of his opponents or certainly been characterized by some of his opponents as being too Western in orientation style.

  • 13:31:41

    JOHNSONI don't think that really was the case. The exchange student was actually Xi Jinping, the incoming leader. He was here very briefly on a visit to Ireland …

  • 13:31:50

    NNAMDINot Bo?

  • 13:31:50

    JOHNSON…in the 1980s. But what's interesting, I think, if anything, Bo was sort of more channeling this nationalist and a strong nationalist sentiment within China, rather than, you know, sort of accepting the norms of the West and so on. So I don't think a perception that he was too Western had much to do with the case.

  • 13:32:07

    NNAMDIIn the long term do we know how this scandal will likely affect people's confidence in their government as a whole?

  • 13:32:14

    JOHNSONI think that's an issue that the leadership is gonna have to take very seriously. You know, this is not the first case of its kind. They've expelled other people at that Politburo level in the past. There was Shanghai party secretary in 2006. And prior to that in the 1990s, the Beijing party secretary was removed and sort of similarly salacious circumstances. But they weren't as popular as Bo. They weren't rising leaders in the way that Bo was. And I think the issue here as well was that because of Bo's popularity and charisma, one of the reasons why he was a rising leader and being considered for that highest level, the Standing Committee of the leadership, was that he was generating this kind of popular attention.

  • 13:32:49

    JOHNSONAnd I think some of the grayer figures, within the current Politburo Standing Committee were hoping that some of that popularity would rub off on them. And so it's very interesting then to see how the leadership deals with this dilemma of, you know, we need to connect with the people in a way that makes us more popular among them, but we can't go too far in the way that Bo did.

  • 13:33:08

    DYERIf I can add to that…

  • 13:33:08

    NNAMDIPlease do.

  • 13:33:09

    DYER…I think this scandal is potential cancer to the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese people are not so naive to think that their senior officials live off the fairly modest official's salaries that they have, but when they start to become aware of the really vast amounts of wealth that senior leaders and their families over the last couple of decades -- and it's absolutely not just Bo Xilai. It's lots of other various senior leaders, as well.

  • 13:33:27

    NNAMDIYeah, can you talk a little bit about the financial gap between the wealthy, including the families of high-level Communist officials and the rest of the population in China? How big is the gap between their one percent and everyone else?

  • 13:33:40

    DYERIt's a huge gap. I mean, you know, China has got substantially richer in the last couple of decades, but the gains have been very unevenly distributed. And the society has become more and more unequal. And if you look at things like the Gini coefficient which measures inequality, we're looking at sort of Latin American levels of inequality developing in China. And then when you get this impression that these families of senior officials are just making vast amounts of money and have been benefiting from backdoor deals and sweetheart deals and using all their insider connections, the Chinese public really become aware of the extent of the wealth that these people have and that is incredibly dangerous to the party. It's corrosive to the legitimacy and to their ability to really govern.

  • 13:34:18

    NNAMDIWhat does this scandal say about transparency and the rule of law in China? Would any of this have come to light if that police chief had not spilled the beans at the U.S. Consulate?

  • 13:34:29

    JOHNSONThe short answer is probably no. You know, the reality of the situation is that while of course they are pursuing this in a very legal manner and why are they doing that? They have to build a legal case against Bo because otherwise, if they don't, all the attention would be on this infighting that Geoff and I have been talking about, within the senior leadership. Nothing is more precious to them than continuing to project this facade of absolute unity at the top of the leadership. So if they can dress this up as a violation of law and show that the party enforces its own laws and, you know, is against corruption and these sort of things that works for them.

  • 13:35:01

    JOHNSONBut in terms of what it means long term for rule of law, no, I don't think that it advances the cause there really at all. I mean it is possible that down range, as they go along there will be, if it is true that this figure, Zhou Yongkang who has been suppressing rule of law in the country does take a tumble, though. That might open the door for more movement along those lines.

  • 13:35:21

    NNAMDIGeoff Dyer, I find it significant that the U.S. Consulate did not use the police chief's approach to it for any kind of international public relations advantage here. How do you think this scandal will affect China's dealings with the rest of the world, both politically and economically?

  • 13:35:38

    DYERWell, I think in terms of the U.S. Consulate, I mean, it is possible for people to walk into a Consulate in China and ask for asylum, but it has to be very, very special cases. They have to be, you know, someone who's a real kind of bastion of human rights or someone who's being very much victimized by the system. Here you had a guy who was the police chief of a city and been the police chief in various other bits of the country. He was very much the cold face of human rights abuses. He's not a victim. He's one of the perpetrates of human rights abuses.

  • 13:36:06

    DYERSo it would be very hard for the U.S. government to make a case that this guy should somehow get special treatment and should be awarded asylum. So I think it was generally inevitable that …

  • 13:36:13

    NNAMDIOr to use the information that it had gotten to say, you know, this is how corrupt this system is compared to ours, so to speak. They seemed to decide, okay, let's treat this as purely an internal manner.

  • 13:36:25

    DYERWell, we don't know exactly what they've been told or what they've done with the information.

  • 13:36:29

    NNAMDIThis is true.

  • 13:36:29

    DYERSo you can't really speculate on that, but also from the U.S. government's point of view, they probably didn't have a lot to gain by really getting involved very much like in a family squabble amongst the Chinese Communist Party. And as the, you know, they stand back and it has played itself out anyway, without them necessarily needing to get themselves involved too much and make any new enemies.

  • 13:36:47

    NNAMDIHow do you think ultimately it'll affect -- if ultimately it affects China's dealings with the rest of the world politically and economically?

  • 13:36:53

    JOHNSONWell, I think the chief thing to watch for there will be to see how much of a distraction this becomes for them. Generally when they get involved in these type of internal tussles it means -- and you have a very charged atmosphere politically in Beijing -- it means that they tend to be even more inward looking than they normally are, which is pretty inward looking. And therefore, it, you know, will distract them terribly from their ability to focus on a lot of other things that are going on externally, developments with North Korea for example, tussles in the South China Sea with some of their various neighbors and other claimants to islands down in that area.

  • 13:37:26

    JOHNSONAnd the other piece related to that is that generally speaking, again, when there are these internal divisions, they tend to project a bit nastier face to the outside world. They tend to emphasize sovereignty and, you know, their sort of control of their various territorial possessions or what they deem to be their territorial possessions very, very strongly. And I think we saw that here very directly about a week ago in this tussle with the Philippines over some islands down in the South China Sea.

  • 13:37:50

    NNAMDIWell, there's a high-level meeting coming up next month between U.S. and Chinese officials. Think this will come up at all, Geoff Dyer?

  • 13:37:57

    DYERI suspect that everyone will go out of their ways not to talk about it as much as they can I think. But, you know, this is gonna be a story that's gonna be around for quite awhile. You know, the Chinese Communist Party have given some of the information, but they're gonna have to show a lot more information as to why they're prosecuting Bo, why they're prosecuting his wife, if they're to maintain credibility, both with the Chinese people, but also the rest of the world is watching them to see just how they go about dealing with this type of problem, whether they try to brush it under the carpet, whether they deal with it in a transparent and accountable way.

  • 13:38:25

    NNAMDIGonna take a short break. When we come back, it's your turn. Who do you think should be Mitt Romney's running mate? Call us at 800-433-8850. All the pundits are speculating. Become a pundit yourself. Call us, 800-433-8850. Like to comment on the Secret Service scandal in Columbia? Call us, it's your turn. Or that GSA meeting in Las Vegas that ended up costing more than $800,000? It's you turn, 800-433-8850.

  • 13:38:53

    NNAMDIChris Johnson is freeman chair in China studies with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's a former China analyst for the CIA. Chris Johnson, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:39:02

    JOHNSONThank you.

  • 13:39:02

    NNAMDIGeoff Dyer is a national security correspondent and former Beijing Bureau Chief with the Financial Times. Geoff, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:39:09

    DYERMy pleasure.

  • 13:39:10

    NNAMDI800-433-8850, it's your turn. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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