Much ado in Beijing - and not a little in Washington
The next week sees a conjunction of events that have the once in a lifetime aura of an appearance by Halley's Comet. With the US Presidential election and Chinese National Congress the world's two superpowers choose their new leaders. Given that the accelerating importance of China in world affairs is probably only matched by ignorance of how China operates - maybe the events - and the personalities - there deserve greater attention.
The election in the United States has taken place in the fullest glare of expensively- bought publicity and with every nuance of public opinion sought and analysed. However for part of the political establishment the contest is about displacing a usurper- an outsider whose very election was an aberration ( with some on the furthest fringes continuing to assert that Obama isn't even a native born citizen of the United States).
Within China, there are still only absolute insiders In politics and their avowed intention is always that change should be,at best opaque - although paradoxically ' birthright' is playing a central part there too. The process however has been wrenched from behind the closed doors of the Zhongnanhai complex and thrust into a profoundly unwelcome spotlight provided by the sinister drama in the family life of Bo Xilai.
As with so many things in China, understanding the current situation requires a historical context - in this case going back at the least to the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989. This saw Deng Xiao Ping bring Jiang Zemin into the topmost leadership to quell the disturbances and for Jiang ultimately to become paramount leader through the 1990's
After formally stepping down from power in 2003, Jiang has sought to exercise influence over both the direction of, and the personalities in,Government and he was known to see Bo Xilai as a particular protégé. Jiang's attempt to manoeuvre Bo to the senior leadership group as a Vice Premier in 2007 -and thereby primed for further advancement in 2012 - was thwarted but Bo's period as leader in fast growing city of Chongqing was seen ( and taken) as an opportunity to enhance his credentials. However following his fall from grace after the conviction of his wife for murder, Bo has suffered a series of humiliations which have included allegations of corruption, expulsion from the party and now the apparent inevitability of criminal charges
Then startling revelations appeared last weekend in the New York Times about alleged corruption among members of Premier Wens immediate family - just a few weeks after Jiang Zemin made an extremely rare public appearance (the Chinese practice in recent decades is that retired leaders live totally private lives).
Now add if you will to this already exceedingly rich mix the fact that the ambitions of Bo ( and Jiang) in 2007 were brought to nothing by the intervention of Wen and that it was a speech by Wen earlier this year which precipitated the tumult which brought Bo down
What to make of It all? Well given that truth is so often eminently stranger than fiction it could well mean that some sort of compromise may have been reached among the Beijing power elites. The impugning of Wen's reputation at the very close of his career ( could the New York Times have gathered the information to support its report without some inside track ?) might be a balancing process offsetting the fall of Bo and bringing ancient principles of ying and yang into play. Remember, however. Any dispute that manifests itself in Beijing is all about where power lies rather than nuances of policy.
And amid all of his considerable current vicissitudes Bo Xilai could well recall that his own father experienced just as calamitous a political fall during the Cultural Revolution and not only survived but came back to exercise huge power and influence. In Chinese politics it is not always at all clear when or if the final curtain has actually fallen.
With regard to birthright, Xi Jiping who is actually expected to ascend to the highest rank next week is himself princeling of Beijing's red aristocracy - Mr Xi 's father headed the party propaganda machine in the 1950's before also falling and rising again.
Saving ( of course !) the presence of our own Royal Family, you might think this dynastic principle a little odd in the twenty first century ? Think on, just a little. There is already speculation that the US 2016 election could see a contest ranging the son and brother of past Presidents ( Jeb Bush) against the wife of another - Hilary Clinton.
And maybe a twenty second century Shakespeare will find himself recording a global version of the history plays with generations of Bushes,Clintons, Xi's and Bo's confronting each other in riveting Warwickshire verse ?