Beijing's Cracked Consensus

The Bo Scandal Exposes Flaws in China's Leadership Model

Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kailai, who is accused of murder. (Courtesy Reuters)

The Chinese Communist Party's decision last week to suspend Bo Xilai -- the "princeling" scion of one of the People's Republic's revolutionary founding fathers -- from the Politburo amounts to the most serious political earthquake to hit China's top leadership in decades. Beijing's simultaneous announcement that it has detained Bo's wife on "suspicion of intentional homicide" in the death of the Briton Neil Heywood also violates the unwritten code -- put in place following the tumult and incessant purges of the Cultural Revolution -- that when it comes to politics, the families of the country's top leadership are off-limits.

The political aftershocks will continue for some time. The crimes that Bo and his inner circle are accused of are reprehensible and, if true, merit severe punishment. Bo's massive wealth -- allegedly attained through intimidation and corrupt dealings -- and the ease with which his wife apparently decided to eliminate Mr. Heywood, when they fell out over unspecified "economic interests," underscore the couple's seeming ruthlessness. But it also is the case, however, that the leadership's move against Bo is entirely political. The torrent of salacious details spewing out in the official media concerning Bo and his associates' misdeeds far exceeds the amount of detail released about similar cases in the past, demonstrating the leadership's resolve to end Bo's career. Only the final act of Bo's demise remains unwritten, and it is essential to understand the broader implications, and possible unintended consequences, of his fall.

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At first glance, it would appear that Bo's ouster clears the way for a smooth succession this fall when the top positions in the Chinese Communist Party turn over, a process that happens roughly every decade. To some

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