We waited impatiently in the plush conference hall to hear, first hand, the incredible success story of Dalian, erstwhile Port Arthur. The two days that we spent going around China's northern warm-water port, as part of the military attaché tour, left us in awe. Dalian had emerged as the regional financial base, international shipping centre and logistics hub. The needle of credit pointed towards one man mayor Bo Xiali - who had then been at the helm for seven years, since 1992.
Tall, suave and charismatic, Bo was apparently the poster boy of the new brand of Chinese leadership. He stood apart from the rest of the pack, in stark contrast to the lacklustre image of a senior Comrade. While an engineering degree was the norm in the top rung of the Communist Party hierarchy, Bo had an arts background.
During an hour-long interaction, he had endeared himself to everyone. Addressing my question as to how could he achieve all this despite political constraints, with a glint in the eyes, the mayor replied, "Good economics does not necessarily mean bad politics? My focus is on the three 'F's: FDI (foreign direct investment), Fashion and Football".
This was a statement of fact as Dalian accounted for a large chunk of foreign investment, was fast emerging as the fashion capital of the East and its football team had just won the national championship. Sounding philosophical, the mayor expressed hope that someday, Dalian and Kolkata could be sister cities.
Subsequently, we learnt that the mayor was the son of famous revolutionary Bo Yibo. A victim of Mao's Cultural Revolution, imprisoned for four years, Bo Xiali subsequently graduated from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences with master's in journalism. Married to a versatile lawyer, Gu Kailai, he had the right political and family connections. A 'princeling' (child of a Communist elite), Bo was touted as a rising star.
While climbing up the political ladder, Bo made it to the powerful Central Committee Politburo. As party secretary of Chongqing, a municipality of 30 million, he was riding the tide as an anti-corruption crusader and reformer. Bo was firmly entrenched to be part of China's highest governing body. However, the very traits flamboyance, individuality and the 'go-getter' tag which catapulted him to the top, in the end proved to be his Waterloo. His lately-acquired penchant for reviving Maoism, his wife's involvement in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, and corruption charges against close family members led to his sacking in March this year.
The die has been cast for the Fifth Generation Leadership to take the field by autumn this year, when the 18th Party Congress convenes. The two factions at the centre of the current power play are President Hu's Communist Youth League and Party of Crown Princes. Vice-President Xi Jinping, the princeling, is the designated successor.
The generational leadership change in the "Land of the Dragon" may appear to be a subdued affair, with only a handful visible stakeholders. In reality, despite the crumbling of the Bamboo Curtain, intense power game goes on behind the silken veil.
The process is marred by factionalism and hard brokering. The precedence of purges being the norm, some of the stalwarts currently in the fray could well go Bo Xiali's way. The complex and mysterious procedure of power changing hands in Beijing is a real game of Chinese checkers. As per the traditional belief, the mandate to rule the "Middle Kingdom" comes from heaven.
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