When you have worked for Control Risks for a long time, people often assume you know the inside story behind the tales of intrigue that dominate the headlines. Just occasionally you do, but cannot say that you do. When you don’t, people nevertheless think you really do and assume you are just being discreet. Better to be regarded as an international man of mystery, I suppose, than just plain clueless.
As for the Bo Xilai case in China, I genuinely don’t have a clue what is happening. There is lots of speculation in the press about what may be going on but my sense is that those who do understand the whole story are remaining tight lipped. Even if the details of who did what to whom when are thin on the ground, the case offers a fascinating glimpse into the workings of China’s political elite.
The transfer of power to a new generation of politburo members was meant to happen seamlessly with the minimum of fuss. The death of Neil Heywood and the fall of Bo Xilai have drawn unwanted attention to what should have been a deft changing of the guard and brought with it salacious tales of fast cars, shady business deals and sexual intrigue. It will be tough for the senior leadership to regain the reputation for austere probity they desire.
It is hard to argue against the need for transparency in public life. But even the most democratically-minded of politicians often fear the searchlight of accountability. Greater transparency sometimes creates disappointment. Our desire to be led by people we admire is rarely helped by seeing them revealed as flawed human beings engaged in a world of grubby compromises. My own brief encounter with Margaret Thatcher at the height of her powers is memorable not for how formidable she seemed but rather because I was struck by how small, flustered and dependent on her advisers she was.
Politics is like a sausage: best not to see how it is made.
So it is no surprise that the Chinese leadership is keen to contain the Bo case as a one-off extraordinary event - which it probably is – and not let it contaminate the public’s perception of the wider governing class. But there is little chance that international interest in the story will subside given the extraordinary twists and turns of the plot. A plot that would be worthy of a James Bond movie if it did not all sound so far-fetched.