Bo Xilai’s Military Ties Provoke Official Scrutiny

April 16, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Chinese navy guards yell as they march in Beijing in 2009. The military question in the context of Bo Xilai's political drama remains inconclusive. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese navy guards yell as they march in Beijing in 2009. The military question in the context of Bo Xilai's political drama remains inconclusive. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

According to a Maoist adage, “power flows from the barrel of a gun.” Who controls the guns—the army—in communist China has been the key to who controls the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and thus the nation. As developments in the power struggle shaking the CCP’s top leadership have recently played out in front page editorials in China’s newspapers, behind the scenes an effort to secure the loyalty of the military has been moving forward.

The power struggle has so far swirled around Bo Xilai, the former head of the CCP in the central western megalopolis of Chongqing. Bo was relieved of his position in Chongqing on March 15 and of all his Party posts on April 10. He is now under investigation by the Party’s disciplinary committee.

Bo’s career in the CCP appears to be over and the only question remaining is how serious the punishment he suffers will be. But if hope remains for rescuing Bo’s fortunes, and the fortunes of the political faction he belongs to, that hope would reside in the military taking extraordinary action to protect him.

Amid rumors of a military effort to rescue Bo, the Central Military Commission, which controls China’s armed forces, has sent five inspection teams to Sichuan, Chongqing, Kunming, Guizhou, and other places, to investigate the connections of military leaders in the Chengdu military region to Bo, as reported by the South China Morning Post on April 15.

When the vice chair of the Central Military Commission, Guo Boxiong, appeared in the Chengdu Military Region, he stressed that the military stay quiet during this time—preventing major security issues and ensuring that no events affect the overall situation or interfere with the authorities—according to, the regime mouthpiece, on April 14.

Bo’s power base is in central-western and southwestern China, where the inspection teams are concentrating. Bo Xilai is said to have close relations with the military in the region due to connections made through his father, Bo Yibo, and his wife, Gu Kailai, whose father was a general in northwest China.

Military leaders have given mixed signals as to whether their loyalty lies with Party leader Hu Jintao or with Bo Xilai and the faction led by former Party head Jiang Zemin.

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The political commissar of the navy, Liu Xiaojiang, and other military commanders published articles in People’s Daily on April 12 expressing their strong support for the CCP Central Committee’s handling of the Bo Xilai issue.

“Liberation Army Daily” also published an article on April 13, entitled “The Entire Military and the Armed Police Firmly Support the Correct Decision of the CCP Central Committee.” That report raised as many questions as it answered.

The report quoted the words of several officers, including General Yin Fanglong, Political Department director of the Second Artillery Corps of People’s Liberation Army (SAC); Pan Yong, political commissar of the Sichuan Meishan military sub-district; and Lee Sailau, political commissar of one Red Army in the Beijing Military Region, and so on.

Missing from the list of officers was Zhang Haiyang, the former political commissar of the Chengdu military region (2005–2009) and the current political commissar of the SAC. The SAC is a highly sensitive unit—the strategic missile force.

Zhang Haiyang is a man with influence. He is regarded as a candidate for the director of the general political department for the Central Military Commission—in other words, the head of the political department for the organization that runs the armed forces.

Zhang is said to have close relations with Bo Xilai, according to the journalist Jiang Weiping, among other sources. Jiang served several years in prison after writing an article accusing Bo Xilai of corruption in Dalian City and has mentioned the relationship between Bo Xilai and Zhang Haiyang in several of his articles.

The voices within the SAC are contradictory. Zhang’s second-in-command in the Party hierarchy inside the SAC is Yin Fanglong, who published an article supporting Party Central in the April 13 People’s Daily.

His article took a swipe at loyalty based on personal connections, such as Bo has throughout the Chengdu military region.

“We should exclude the interference of sentiments,” Yin wrote. “When friendship and principles contradict each other, it is a small tie of comradeship to insist on the individual relationship, but we need great ties of comradeship to follow the Party’s development.”

According to blog posts published on April 13, at least a general and an important businessman have acted to put pressure on Party authorities to “rescue Bo Xilai” and demanded that the Bo Xilai issue be handled correctly. According to blogs on the Chinese Duowei News, which is published outside China, the support for Bo came from General Peng Xiaofeng and Wang Zhen. Peng is a former political commissar of the SAC and Wang is the chair of a state-owned investment firm, the CITIC Group.

With files from NTD Television, and research by Sunny Chao.

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