The South China Morning Post reports that former Politburo member and municipality party secretary Bo Xilai is to be tried for taking RMB20 million in bribes and – one of those extra details that add authenticity – embezzling a further RMB5 million. If true, it is a grotesque whitewash. All the signs are that Bo’s reign of terror in Chongqing involved torture, murder and the illegal sequestration of billions’ worth of assets. China’s tightly controlled media and judicial systems are turning the emergence of a murderous princeling-warlord in the top tiers of government into an average, if high-profile, corruption case, like just another vice-mayor with a dozen mistresses or a police chief with 50 apartments.
In Hong Kong, it’s the other way round. A senior official found with an illegal structure on his property is hounded down like a serial criminal. Appointment to Body A of someone already sitting on Body B provokes screeches of ‘conflict of interest’ where there is zero linkage to be found. In the case of Development Secretary Paul Chan, drearily predictable, lawful money-grubbing real-estate investments on his wife’s part make him guilty of fraud, sleaze and gross abuse of power. (If the figures are to be believed, two Paul Chans at around HK$17 million = one Bo Xilai.)
This is a good thing. How lucky we are not to be on the other side of the border, where they bury crashed trains in the ground, and officials’ kids get away with running people over and rape. But is it so good? Could it be that the constant nitpicking over every real or perceived infraction of the rules diverts attention from an overall rottenness that is our real problem?
RTHK Radio 3 invited former politician Allen Lee to speak, presumably to advise that Chief Executive CY Leung remove Paul Chan from the government. Instead, the ex-Liberal Party boss made an anguished plea to the heavens to put Hong Kong’s political structure out of its misery (more or less – start at 09.30 here). Getting quite emotional, he complained that it wasn’t just top officials, but education and the environment, along with CY’s own poor appointments and lack of friends and credibility. Beijing, he concluded, should be “terribly worried,” go for a “total overhaul” and “allow party politics” here because this system “just doesn’t work.” He was angry.
He barely hinted at what he meant when he used the word ‘rotten’, but we can make some suggestions. Families are living in tiny, fetid subdivided slums; the best public schools have been semi-privatized so only the rich can get in; the government is awash with money, yet makes the elderly poor queue all night to see a public dentist; and so on, and so on. Meanwhile, people froth at the mouth because Paul Chan’s wife was a slum landlord, and they bicker over whether one more school should join the direct subsidy scheme. The government’s number-two has just decreed that the stash of guilt-money known as the Community Care Fund should not be given to people so poor that they are forced to live in illegal housing because… they are living in illegal housing. You would have thought people might get worked up about such bureaucratic perversity, but they’re too busy stampeding to the Independent Commission Against Corruption because Paul Chan rented (or didn’t rent?) a fruit orchard to a farmer in the 1990s. Talk about ‘you can’t see the forest for the trees’.
On a lighter (to put it mildly) note, Allen Lee’s successor as Liberal party boss, James Tien, writes to the SCMP today to plead with Occupy Central not to occupy Central, citing along the way: Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Central the robust and innocent heart’, The Bank of China’s watchful eye, the guilt of the CY Leung administration, cruelty to horses, jihadi terrorists plotting in a Lan Kwai Fong pub, our hardline police commissioner, the People’s Liberation Army, and his own valiant role in pulling the plug on Article 23 10 years ago. We must take pleasure where we can find it, and who can fail to be amused by such a glorious, rambling, almost but sadly not-quite hallucinogenic progression of half-wittedness?