Japan from the inside out

The non-person at the New York Times

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 14, 2012

As statesman-like as Henry Kissinger, as environmentally conscious as Al Gore, and almost as beloved by the public as Princess Diana
– author Chen Zufeng in a commissioned hagiography of Bo Xilai, as cited by Li Cheng in “China’s leaders: The new generation”

IS there a more curious newspaper in the Anglosphere than the New York Times? Whenever they write about Japan, they behave as if they’re a big-budget edition of the weekly Ho-Ho-Kus New Jersey Shoppers’ Gazette staffed by high school journalism trainees: Getting pwned by a pop artist and being convinced that a goofy costume is a sign of rising crime; conveniently garbling the statements of a prime minister they didn’t care for to get him in trouble (they didn’t); and exhibiting no ability whatsoever to produce a competent article on current political conditions.

The late Michael Crichton had a rule of thumb for the print media — Falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus, which ought to replace All the News it’s Fit to Print on the Times masthead. It makes no difference whether they write about Japan or Uruguay, George W. Bush or Barack Obama. They’re in the business of manufacturing plausible falsies pitched a certain way for certain readers who lack the time or the interest in fact-checking.

But now it gets worse with the Times’ struggle to make sense of the recent power struggle in China. The newspaper has been serializing the tale of the rise and fall of Bo Xilai, the former party secretary of Chongqing, and the implication of his wife Gu Kailai in the murder of a Brit speedo who ingratiated himself with the local elites and seems to have been relegated Chinese-style after he began playing out of his league.

Here’s the Times’ speculation about what might have happened with Bo Xilai:

“…a titanic power struggle between Mr. Bo’s neo-Maoist left and the more liberal and market-oriented right; infighting among ruling cliques; a seizing of the moment by Mr. Bo’s many highly motivated political enemies.”

Seeing the Times describe people who are both “liberal” and “market-oriented” as being on the “right” is jolly good reading, isn’t it?

Especially when they and the neo-Maoist left are all members of the Chinese Communist Party!

How to precisely describe Mr. Bo seems to have stumped them. The passage above refers to him as a “neo-Maoist”. But then they say:

“In a Western system, Mr. Bo might be called a populist. In China, where lockstep unity is a foundation of the party’s claim on power, he was a fearsome unknown.”

Mark my words, that’s a journalist who’ll graduate to writing scripts for cable TV documentaries before long.

“Mr. Bo is mostly identified as the charismatic darling of China’s new left, the intellectuals and policy wonks who argue that China should use state power to assure social equality and enforce a culture of moral purity and nationalism. Mr. Bo’s policies in Chongqing, from the mass singing of Mao-era songs to his pitiless anticorruption campaign, were conceived with the help of leftist theorists at the government-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.”

National socialism…moral purity…mass singing…in a system that allows private ownership of business only as long as it is in the service of the state….

The Chinese communists apparently have German antecedents other than Karl Marx.

Here’s populism Chinese style:

“To waves of favorable publicity, his government rewarded citizens who reported rude taxi drivers and fined those who uttered unpleasantries like nao you bing, or, roughly, ‘numbskull’.”

In most places, an irked passenger would complain to the company after a cabbie called him a numbskull. Here the passengers make it an issue of hate speech and complain to the government, which rewards the whistle blowers and fines the drivers, all to public acclaim. And this is one of Bo Xilai’s praiseworthy achievements.

Interesting place, this China.

But Mr. Bo finally came a cropper:

“In a governing elite that makes big choices by consensus, experts say, Mr. Bo might well have vaulted onto the Standing Committee with the support of sympathizers, had Chongqing’s police chief, Wang Lijun, not fled to the American Consulate in Chengdu, in nearby Sichuan Province.

“Mr. Wang carried papers that he said implicated Mr. Bo’s family in a criminal inquiry of the death of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, an acquaintance of the Bo family. Mr. Bo and Mr. Wang are now said to be confined in Beijing while party officials investigate those and other claims.”

Another article in the series describes how his wife is being tarred for suspected foreign connections. That’s to discredit man and wife with the policy wonk neo-leftists who would enforce moral purity and nationalism. It’s also against the rules for Chinese bigwigs to have foreign residency permits. A third article features more details on the alleged murder of the Englishman and the involvement of Ms. Gu (Mrs. Bo). It also mentions briefly that Bo had ties to Mao Zedong.

The newspaper doesn’t provide any details on those Mao ties, but that’s not surprising. The ties don’t seem to have been binding ones, if they existed at all. His father, Bo Yibo, was booted out of the Chinese Communist Party in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution because he was a counterrevolutionary rightist. Bo Xilai himself was jailed for five years and wasn’t released until after Mao died. That was 36 years ago, when Bo was still 27. But now he’s a neo-leftist with Mao ties.

Finally, here’s a Times article that tries to unscramble the loose ends:

“The maximum sentence for murder in China is execution. On its face, Mr. Chen said, the Heywood murder case appears “pretty grave, because it involved a foreigner, and because it has had such a negative impact” politically.

When Mr. Bo knocks a few Falun Gong heads together and some fatalities result, well, these things happen. But when the case involves a foreigner and has negative political repercussions, it becomes murder-murder instead of murder.

“The disclosure of the charges against the Bos was carefully scripted, and apparently timed, to dispense with Mr. Bo well ahead of a planned turnover of Communist leaders at the 18th Party Congress this autumn.”

But it’s curious that nowhere in these articles do the Times writers explain how Bo Xilai rose as high as he did, apart from being a charismatic darling. Since the Chinese aren’t allowed to elect their leaders, all that darling charisma and a few yuan will buy him a cup of tea. More curious still is that the pertinent information on Mr. Bo is available all over the place. Just not in the New York Times.

“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.”

Why did the New York Times drop the former president’s name from these articles and turn him into a non-person? Is this is what they mean by news that isn’t fit to print?

This article continues:

“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.”

But in one of those Times pieces:

“Some Chinese leaders clearly hope that this year will mark another milestone in China’s rise under authoritarian rule: the first time that a whole new slate of leaders is chosen largely by consensus among the political elite, not handpicked by a powerful strongman.”

In other words, the leaders will be chosen not by one strongman, but by nine strongmen. The New York Times finds someone who thinks this is a milestone, but can’t find anyone who thinks this is an oligarchy.

“Wu Si, a liberal intellectual and editor based in Beijing, said in an interview: “What in actuality are the rules of transferring power at the highest levels now? It’s not clear.””

Sure the rules are clear. They’re called The Law of the Jungle.

“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 Japanese widely assume that Xi Jinping is another Jiang Zemin acolyte, and they therefore expect the Chinese to adopt a harder line in the region after he becomes president later this year. Mr. Xi also seems to have developed his political instincts and a fine sense of survival if he jumped “at the last minute” away from his patron.

“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.”

Those three sentences contain more useful information than the four Times articles about neo-leftism, populism, numbskull taxi patrons, and fearsome unknowns threatening the lockstep unity.

Another article provides even more detail:

“Jiang Zemin moved Bo up rapidly. While continuing to serve as mayor of Dalian City, Bo was appointed as acting governor of Liaoning Province in 2000 and then as governor in 2001. In 2002, Bo was appointed to the Central Committee of the CCP. In 2004, he was made Minister of Commerce….

“…Bo has been sued 14 times in 13 countries on charges of torture, murder, genocide, and crimes against humanity. In 2007, this record sidetracked his brisk rise through the Party hierarchy.

“When Jiang Zemin’s faction put Bo forward to be vice-premier, and thus in line to succeed Wen Jiabao, Wen objected that, given the international lawsuits brought against Bo, he was not an appropriate choice, according to a U.S. State Department cable released by Wikileaks. Bo was shunted to be Party secretary in the central-western megalopolis of Chongqing instead.”

Here’s the New York Times’ explanation of the same circumstances:

“Mr. Bo’s ambition and abrasive style made some enemies in the elite, notably Mr. Wen. His posting in 2007 to Chongqing, deep in China’s interior, was seen by some as an effort to sideline him.”

So, the Chinese Communist Party accepts leaders who walk on the wild side of torture, murder, genocide, and crimes against humanity, but woe betide if you’re from a competing faction and your wife poisons a Brit who pulled some strings to get your son into Harrow.

None of this is new information, however. The Bo family – Jiang connection has been known in the West for at least a decade, after Andrew Nathan and Bruce Gilley explained that Xilai’s father Bo Yibo helped Jiang Zemin succeed Deng Xiaoping and consolidate his power in the 90s in their book, China’s New Rulers: The secret files.

The Japanese have also been keeping a close watch on developments among the Chinese ruling class. That’s only natural — those developments have a direct impact on them. For Manhattan sophisticates and America’s politico-academic-journo complex, those developments are little more than breakfast table infotainment.

Shi Peng, a Chinese who is now a naturalized Japanese citizen, offered his perspective in an article in the December issue of Seiron. Mr. Shi was stunned by a 27 September 2011 article in the Global Times newspaper, which is owned by the People’s Daily, which is owned by the Communist Party.

The article was written by a man identified as a strategic analyst from a group whose name translates as the China Energy Resource Fund Committee. It was titled, “The time has come for China to use military force in the South China Sea,” and the theme was that China should not hesitate to initiate conflict to achieve its geopolitical ends.

Mr. Shi notes that the article presents China as the victim and the neighboring countries as the aggressors, which, he says, is what the Chinese always do. (The “peace-loving Soviet people” had a taste for that approach as well.) He quotes this passage:

“China has devoted itself to economic development and is most desirous of stability in its environment. We seek neither the internationalization of the South China Sea problems, nor do we seek to bring about an international conflagration. That is why we have acted in unparalleled good faith.”

But the neighboring countries are “preparing for a world-scale war,” and the United States is “pouring gasoline on to the flames by selling weapons, and is also preparing for military intervention.”

“Our response to other countries encroaching on our maritime territory and drilling for oil should first be to extend all possible courtesy (and warn them to stop). If they don’t stop, they should be blocked by the use of military force…We must not be afraid of a small war. That is the best way to release martial energy.”

See what I mean about German antecedents?

The author of the Global Times article believes that victory is certain. He mentions there are thousands of oil wells in the sea, none of which are Chinese and all of which are potential targets. Also:

“The U.S. has not yet extricated itself from its war against terror, and they are still closely involved with Middle East issues. They have absolutely no margin for opening a second front in the South China Sea. The Americans’ hard-line stance is a false front.”

Therefore the Chinese must:

“Fix our objective on The Philippines and Vietnam, which are causing a terrible commotion.”

Mr. Shi was astonished because it is extremely rare in China for any media outlet to call so assertively for war. He says that even though the media has gained a degree more freedom, the government retains the exclusive right to express views on certain topics that others cannot independently express. War is one of those topics.

He was astonished for other reasons, too. He writes:

“To diffuse the international community’s sense of caution, (China) always dons the mask of peace and limits their belligerent words and acts. It is their hunting tactic to retract their claws, hold their breath, and approach the prey.”

He suggests that if the article was unsanctioned, it would be a challenge to the central government’s authority and it would harm their international “hunting tactic”. Mr. Shi thinks this is neither official government policy nor an article authorized by the government. While President Hu Jintao certainly supports the overall geopolitical strategy of achieving dominance in the South China Sea, he and his supporters will refrain from such belligerence while the U.S. still has maritime military dominance.

Finally, Mr. Shi notes that when Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong visited Beijing in October, President Hu proposed that the two countries jointly develop the maritime resources at dispute. The Japanese media thought this was an indication of Chinese concessions, especially in light of the trouble they caused with Vietnamese shipping in the latter country’s EEZ last summer. Rattling the sabers ruins all that diplomacy and their quiet advance strategy.

So who wrote the article?

Mr. Shi says it had to come from someone with the political clout to publish an article in a newspaper whose parent company is the CCP that directly confronts authority and implicitly criticizes the current leadership’s geopolitical strategy. It had to be someone who wanted to reveal the weakness of the leadership and impress the military with his strength.

He fingers Jiang Zemin and his Shanghai clique.

Mr. Jiang has been maneuvering for power behind the scenes for nine years, and his biggest success was having his ally Xi Jinping tapped as the next president. To counteract those moves, Mr. Hu has been gathering young party members and placing them in positions of authority in the central and regional governments to serve as a counterbalance to Xi Jinping. Mr. Shi reports that his efforts have been very successful.

Speaking of the hard line, the Global Times also published an article to remind its readers of the Manchurian Incident on its 80th anniversary on 19 September. The article mentions the “rise of the right wing in Japan” and states:

“It is entirely possible that Japan expects to achieve again a military success after its failure, and Japanese militarism has already been revived.”

This will come as a surprise to everyone in Japan. Considering that Tanaka Naoki is serving as defense minister, it might even generate a few laughs.

Mr. Shi reminds his readers that Japan-bashing of this sort was a feature of Chinese journalism under Jiang Zeming, but has been toned down by Hu Jintao. Mr. Hu continues to use historical issues as a weapon against Japan (if only domestically), but Mr. Shi says the reference to a revival of militarism places the article in another dimension altogether.

So it would seem that what is happening in China is this: Two competing factions at the highest level of government are playing hardball in a power struggle. There are “carefully scripted charges ahead of a party conference” in which one of the bishops on the political chessboard and his wife are removed from their positions of authority and held in confinement, though there has been no formal confirmation. Bo Xilai is now a running dog on the road to becoming a non-person, after Chinese authorities removed his name from messages on the local Internet.

We’ve seen all of this before in People’s Democratic Republics ruled by a communist party. It’s called a purge.

But that’s another word the New York Times couldn’t fit into their version of the news.


The most important aspect of the Bo Xilai story is his link to Jiang Zemin and what the purge means in the overall power struggle. Has the New York Times mentioned a connection before? If they couldn’t be bothered to mention it in four straight articles this week, two of which are summaries of the situation, yet can make an unexplained reference to ties between Bo and Mao that no one else sees, I can’t be bothered to check.

If Shi Peng is wrong about the source of the Global Times articles, it would mean that President Hu is more hardline than people think.

In other China news, inflation is becoming a problem, and unfortunately for everyone else, their solution is Keynesian. Then again, the American and European solution is also Keynesian.

Hit the internal link in the article to the author’s first article to get a sense of CNN’s economic illiteracy. It’s not just CNN, either. It was CNNMoney.

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One Response to “The non-person at the New York Times”

  1. toadold said

    Kind of reminds me of the old Abbot and Costello routine ‘Who’s on first.”

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