The scandal surrounding Bo Xilao, who today was expelled from the ruling party in China and referred for prosecution, provides a glimpse into the way a national government can serve as an umbrella for loosely linked criminal enterprises. You have to wonder how many equally corrupt high-ranking officials are still in place. Bo’s downfall came only after he participated (the ruling party believes) in the highly visible murder of a prominent foreigner. Most crime bosses and warlords, you would think, would know to steer clear of such public embarrassment.
Bo and his supporters did a lot of damage before they were “caught.” Bo spearheaded a police roundup that nabbed hundreds of people, most surely innocent workers arrested only because of their involvement in competing businesses. Many of them were put to death. The loss of life and atmosphere of fear aside, the economic damage from that disruption would have to be in the tens of billions of dollars. And that was just Bo’s most prominent campaign — there is no telling what else he did that the newspapers never found out about.
China is apparently undertaking a purge as a way to buy time as it tries to figure out a way to restore confidence. Yet there may not be a way to restore confidence in China’s government short of restoring integrity, and no one believes that is coming anytime soon.