China week: Hunting corrupt ‘foxes’

Not of the Martin Luther King variety, nor exactly a nightmare. No, it was a prosaic dream about the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee (CPPCC), the advisory body which sits alongside the National People’s Congress and repeats what it is told.

In my dream, I was in a hall with a BBC colleague from the Middle East, and suddenly I was called on to speak.

I got up, rather flurried and my colleague asked what I was going to talk about. “The CPPCC,” I said, at which point he burst out laughing.

In my dream, I didn’t see the funny side, but then in the layered way of dreams, I noticed that not seeing the funny side was actually the problem.

What was wrong with me? And when I woke up and reflected on this dream, the same question was uppermost: Why would a sane person dream about the CPPCC? Is this a diagnosable syndrome?

Will it follow a pattern of deterioration until I am dreaming about “the four comprehensives”? Is there a support group out there for me?

I may not be alone in needing the support group.

Every year Beijing goes into political lockdown for the liang hui, “the two meetings”, annual sessions of the CPPCC and the National People’s Congress.

Three dramatic things happened on Sunday as soon as this lockdown was lifted: Beijing’s air quality deteriorated, a disgraced PLA general was pronounced dead and a handful of top delegates were detained at their hotels before they had time to leave the capital.

Among Beijingers, there was predictable cynicism about political control of the skies, and rumours circulated about when exactly the former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission Xu Caihou had died, with some suggesting he’d actually passed away a week earlier.

Both stories reinforced the popular conviction that Beijing will go to great lengths to ensure perfect harmony for the liang hui.

And the most newsworthy story from the liang hui aftermath was the hotel detentions.

I wish I’d seen that. I’d been inches from these tigers only hours earlier, standing on the steps of the Great Hall of the People on Sunday morning trying to gather political opinion as they were filing in for the NPC closing ceremony.

If only I’d known, for example, that the vice-party secretary of Yunnan was going to turn into a tiger by lunchtime I would have made an effort to find him in the throng.

Qiu He is an interesting case. With a public profile as an anti-corruption crusader and a market reformer, he had famously published officials’ phone numbers to try to improve transparency, he’d privatised hospitals and schools, and avoided extravagant dining.

So why did the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection come looking for him on Sunday in his Beijing hotel?

The answer may very well be political, involving bigger tigers and a bigger fight.

But when we hear the case against Mr Qiu, it will probably focus on a real estate rush to the head and a posse of carpetbagging developers from his native Jiangsu.

With the property market slowing in Yunnan as elsewhere, Kunming has been left with a skyline of half-built high rises.

Since news of Qiu He’s downfall, the Jiangsu businessmen in Yunnan have become hard to reach, perhaps busy packing their bags, afraid that they’ll be caught in the net.

And perhaps more importantly, how many up-and-coming reformers who show personal initiative and energy can the party afford to lose?

Qiu He is just the latest in what’s becoming a striking list.

There are so many interesting corruption stories this week, but we don’t have all day.

So just a quick mention of the most intriguing: reports that Wang Qishan, right hand man to the president and head of the Communist Party’s corruption watchdog, is planning to go “fox hunting” in the United States.

Operation Fox Hunt is the codename for the attempt to track down and extradite corrupt officials who have fled abroad with their ill-gotten gains.

If Wang Qishan goes to Washington DC it will be interesting to learn who he’s after and to watch the US government response.

Which reminds me, I heard this week from an authoritative source that the Chinese government has asked the British government for help extraditing about 50 foxes who’ve gone to ground in the UK.

Other fox-hunting destinations are Australia, Canada and France, all places with good air quality and education for fox cubs.

Just space for a couple of other stories that caught my eye.