A Skyline of Cranes

by Reihan Salam

Some months ago, I wrote a post on Andy Stern’s admiration for the Chinese economic model. Among other things, Stern wrote the following in December of last year:

Our delegation witnessed China’s people-oriented development in Chongqing, a city of 32 million in Western China, which is led by an aggressive and popular Communist Party leader—Bo Xilai. A skyline of cranes are building roughly 1.5 million square feet of usable floor space daily—including, our delegation was told, 700,000 units of public housing annually.

This came to mind as I read a fascinating new article on Bo Xilai in the Financial Times:

Analysts and experts say the huge expense involved in funding the Chongqing model’s extensive social programmes demanded new sources of revenue and appropriating “illegal” assets was seen as a neat solution.

“The primary and basic goal [of the “smash black” campaign] was to weaken and eliminate private businesses and the relevant companies and entrepreneurs, thereby strengthening state-owned enterprises or local government finances,” Prof Tong wrote in his report. “The most striking result of Chongqing’s anti-mafia war on crime was the large number of private entrepreneurs who lost their money, power and families.”

On March 5 2010, Mr Li was released after paying the “fine”, and was given a set of documents from his captors stating they had found no evidence of any crimes and he was to be regarded as a person of good standing. Mr Li later learnt that the military unit that accepted his payment rewarded his police interrogators with a Rmb100,000 bonus and invited them to an army shooting range to fire heavy machine guns and drink special Moutai liquor reserved for officers.

The revelations surrounding the “smash black” campaign have badly undermined Mr Bo’s chances for making it into the Politburo Standing Committee is formed, which is doubly ironic given that the campaign was designed to discredit his predecessor and chief political rival, Wang Yang, now the reform-minded party secretary in Guangdong.

All told, I think I’d rather have the rule of law than a skyline of cranes. But of course tastes vary.