Confessions of a former police chief

2012-04-19Asia Times

BEIJING - Ladies and gentlemen, I know that you will not believe it, and that you are prejudiced against me. To you, I am only a crook who first imposed the rule of power by arresting and killing people my boss and I arbitrarily decided were mafia bullies - and someone who later tried to run for his life abroad.

You are right. In any way you look at this picture, it is odd and strange.

It is the tale of a seditious, mad baron, blinded by ambition and hubris, who challenged the established order for his personal gain. Or it is the story of a very elaborate conspiracy to take down the troublesome and honest prince who was set to change the country and bring back the old golden era.

This is the trouble with all of this, and it is the essence of my past troubles. The plot is so complicated and the details so many and so confusing that it can be better recalled as a mystery novel or a tragic play. In all of this, I have but a secondary role, and I did what I did - tried to run to the US consulate - because it was the only way to expose it, to be believed, and to try to put an end to all the filth that has been rotting our country.

You could say that it all began many years ago, and certainly it did: with the meteoric rise of my boss, Bo Xilai, from mayor of Dalian to city party chief to governor and party chief of Liaoning. He moved from there to the post of minister of commerce and was then promoted to Communist Party chief of Chongqing.

From that, he was planning to get the plum position of head of security, something that could lock his real, ultimate power over all of China. At each step, he raised many objections and was very controversial - it seemed that his career would not go any further and would stop.

Yet, at each step, he moved further up, protected by a lucky star and supported by a small crowd of loyal and faithful followers like his wife, Gu Kailai; myself, Wang Lijun; and yes, also a foreigner, Neil Heywood, whose death brought down the whole house of cards we were trying to build.

You could say that it all fell apart when Heywood's heart stopped beating in Chongqing. I believe it happened before - almost a year before - when Bo's ambitions seemed to take shape, and it became clear that it was within the realm of possibility for him to become a member of the party's almost almighty Standing Committee of the Politburo as head of security. Sitting there, Bo, with his charisma, determination, and drive, would have become the real number one in China.

He would have done it not by pulling and pushing through the complex web of ties and favors of the state apparatus, but by campaigning for himself, maneuvering in the foreign and domestic press, and coaxing and bribing intellectuals. Bo, in other words, would have done it by playing with Western political rules in a Chinese environment, forming a party within a party and thus creating de facto a multi-party system in China.

Was the Communist Party ready for it and willing to accept this change? In theory, Bo could pull it through by challenging party unity and introducing new ways while donning left-wing clothes. It was the old Deng Xiaoping trick: move to the right and say it is left.

He understood China clearly, but while he was acting, he lost track of himself. Could his fellow Politburo members tolerate him moving up only thanks to his political abilities and without owing favors left and right or being saddled with the usual very heavy burden of political debts?

Moreover, he has done all of this not to achieve the top spot, president of the state and party secretary, but the most crucial seat in a time when power is equally divided among the top echelons, head of security. From there, he could threaten and blackmail anybody - and thus be in the best position to push his own agenda - and then he could become the rock of authority in the fragmented Chinese political structure.

But to do this, he should not have too many skeletons in the closet. Does he? Yes, he greased the wheels of power like anybody - or better than anybody: he seized assets from the mafia bosses I found for him and then sold them at a bargain to his friends, mostly left-wingers, conservatives who could then make money while waving Mao's red flag. Was he wrong? In China, there are no procedures in place for the sale of mafia assets, and the mafia should be fought speedily, no?

He provoked people's dissatisfaction with the present complex market society by branding everything new as "corrupt" - the way most citizens, born and raised in the times of the Cultural Revolution, would feel. At the same time, he played up the sense of the endowment of the "red" aristocracy, the kin of revolutionaries, who believe that, like the old imperial aristocracies, the country belongs to them just because their relatives wrestled it from the previous owners.

But by playing with these elements, he was messing with fire. In fact, despite the sense of displacement felt by most common people in the current society and despite the deep-seated nostalgia for the simple times when they were young, things were simple (red), and diseases were cured by barefoot doctors' traditional medicine, there is no way out of modern society-and everybody knows that in his and her bones. And despite the fact that the fathers took the country like the nobility of the Han or Ming emperors, present China very different from in its imperial past, and to grant further power to the red aristocracy would doom the place-and this is also something everybody feels deep in his or her bones.

So Bo was creating his constituency through populist sentiments and conservative communist nostalgia, but in this, he was also digging his own grave. The people who wanted to push the country forward, the people who resented Bo's overbearing and unlimited ambitions, coalesced against him.

Over the past couple of years, pressure was mounting in Chongqing and in China surrounding whatever Bo did, and unfortunately, he was not beyond reproach. Was he corrupt? So was everybody, more or less, so who can tell exactly? Bo was ready for this. Perhaps he was not ready for somebody digging into his past and his even murkier ties with Heywood. Heywood was an English businessman with some security background.

I could never quite put my finger on what it was, but as a young man, he managed to move a lot of foreign business to Dalian and get a few British bigwigs there, the ones who would look down on their former colonial subjects in Hong Kong. How did he do that? We wanted to believe what he said: it was because of the old English public-school tradition that Harrow people help each other. It was the old boys' club: you are in or out. The story seemed fantastically similar to that of the old communist circle: you are a princeling, or you are not - nothing in between. But was it really that?

These doubts were hanging over my head when people said Gu Kailai killed Heywood. Was it for money or for something else? Had he really threatened to expose her or Bo, as she claimed? The idea of that threat seemed fantastic. Either you use a middleman or you don't, and then either you pay him what he asks or go to somebody else. You don't just argue about price. She had done this for years, so she must have known very well. Could there be anything else? Jealousy? A deal cut with the British government through him, which Bo now wanted to bury?

All these questions were swirling around my head when, after November 15, 2011, I was called to cover up the murder. First his wife and then the consulate called on him for three days, and we didn't know what to say or do. Beijing learned about it and started wondering what happened. We had to incinerate the body to get rid of all the evidence. I knew this was a dangerous move. I don't know how Gu did it, but Heywood's wife agreed to the cremation, although we bungled the situation by giving two different reasons for his death, a heart attack or alcohol poisoning.

The cremation set off alarm bells in Beijing. Everybody here knows that if the authorities kill somebody and want to get rid of the evidence, they burn the body, so with our record for too-swift justice, we immediately came under scrutiny. The Beijing people came down like vultures and were breathing down my neck, watching every step I took. I was the main suspect: they knew this thing in small or large part had gone through me. They started interrogating people and making arrests. It was just a matter of time until they got to me, and what should I do? End my life in indignity for the murder of a foreigner?

I went to see Bo, but he treated me like a coward. He shouted at me that I should go down when I had to. You cannot do that. He should not have shouted at me because I am no weakling and trying to boss me around only makes me furious. Most importantly, the fact that he lost his usual cold demeanor in this moment confirmed my impression he was loosing his grip on his nerves and on reality - things were slipping away.

But what could I do? How could I go against him? I could not turn on him. He had friends everywhere, in Beijing and all over the country. No way I could reach to the top and denounce him. His network of contacts, which I helped him to build, would block me and slander me, arguing I was trying to save my neck by dragging him into this.

I didn't want to betray my country and seek asylum abroad, but our system has no mechanism for real internal safeguards-there is no check and balance of power that can prevent abuses and solve cases like these when they happen. The only check and balance they have and recognize is the American power. So, if I wanted to be really heard by my president, I had to speak to the Americans first, to scare my people and get them to listen to me.

My move had no precedent in the history of the People's Republic and created a systemic challenge to the country: because of the lack of division of power and lack of transparent systems of controls, from now on anybody can stop or threaten to stop the state machinery by fleeing to a foreign consulate. That is, if there is no systemic political reform, the Chinese state machinery will stall and grind to a halt. Therefore, to recover its elasticity and independence from de facto foreign intervention, the system has to become more transparent, adopt some division of power, and become more democratic and open in a manner fitting the Chinese historical conditions. Otherwise the system will simply collapse.

When I ran, it was not all too clear to me. Now it is much better defined in my mind. So, in a way, my running away and Bo and Gu killing Heywood sped up the process of political reform in China. I understand that this is not how the top leadership wanted to do it and that this is not what many people in the party wanted at all, but I hope that by taking such a huge risk, I also pushed the fate of China along. As you now rightly brand me traitor, I hope you can also recognize that, by that act of treason in a very dangerous moment for China, I was more loyal to my country than the many people who stood sheepishly obedient when they were supposed to act. Here history becomes a story, or vice versa. Please understand me, and save, if not my life, at least my memory.

(This is a fictional account of Wang Lijun's thoughts based on a very partial collection of stories circulating in China at the moment.)   (2012-04-19 Asia Times)


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