Intrigue, death and China’s dark secrets
Normally the visit of the fifth most important man amongst the nine most important men who run China, would merit little comment. Li Changchun looks little different from the other white shirted, red tied, dark grey suited Chinese leaders who pitch up in assorted times in assorted places. Mr. Li’s little local difficulty in visiting Downing Street yesterday is that a story that both he and the British government had hoped had gone away is barking like a dog.
I refer of course to the mysterious death of 41-year-old Neil Heywood. China is such a fabulous trading nation, so big, so rich, that the apparently random death of one British citizen in a far flung hotel room deep inside China surely cannot be allowed to rock the “relationship”. Indeed when it happened – last November, it didn’t. The body was neatly incinerated. The man of whom Mr Heywood’s friend Tom Reid has said “I don’t think I ever saw him with a drink” had died suddenly of “an overdose of alcohol”.
Imagine the backchat as British diplomacy began to experience the aftermath. How happy they must have been when Christmas came and nothing had happened to challenge the account of the quiet and unfortunate death in Chongqing.
But oh dear - 6 February dawns and a Mr Wang Lijung pitches up at the American Consulate 300 miles away in Chengdu. Not just any old Mr Wang, but the powerful police chief who had been investigating Neil Heywood’s death.
Read more: Foreign Office defends Heywood response
Then we hear that he tried to defect. We hear he had fallen out with a another unusually un-dark grey suited Chinese leader – Politburo member and Regional boss Bo Xilai. It seems the top cop thinks Bo’s wife poisoned Mr Heywood. Bo – son of a man who accompanied Mao on his Long March, father of a boy at Harrow, is sacked.
Harrow; Chongqing; Downing Street; Chengdu; a sacking; a failed defection; and a leadership struggle. Suddenly we, who know so little about China, are reminded that the once a decade “all change” at the top of China’s grey suits is but months away. Bo - brash, rich, powerful, had been a bright “dark horse” moving about amongst the power shifts.
His wife is in prison, suspected of murdering Heywood, Bo is stripped of power and is we know not exactly where. And Mr. Li has been asked about it all. From what little I know of diplomacy, this matter will have been a polite, charmingly delivered hope that our “co-operation and friendship” will resolve this matter.
But the enthralling “who dunnit” and the sad personal consequence for Neil Heywood’s family speak to a dark truth. This massive burgeoning power hides many vast secrets. We know as little as we know about the workings of the human brain, as we do of the inner functions of Chinese power. This is a power that each day plays a bigger and bigger role in every one of our lives. We ignore the matter of who killed Neil Heywood at our peril.
Can we have any faith that China’s smiling number five, Li Changchun will provide a scintilla of an answer?
You can follow Jon Snow on Twitter @jonsnowC4