Secrets of the “black box” of money and power in China | leadership

To build a logistics center next to the main airport in Beijing, Desmond Shum spent 3 years collecting 150 official stamps from the multilayered Chinese bureaucracy.

To obtain these seals of approval, submit services to government officials. For example, the head of customs at the airport asked him to build a new building for the government, which would include an indoor basketball and badminton court, a 200-seat theater and a karaoke bar.

“If you do not give it to us, we will not let you build it,” the official told Shum with a big smile at dinner.

Shum recounts the conversation in memoirs that explain how the Communist Party maintains business obedience, and what happens when businessmen cross the line. Red Roulette tells the story of a source familiar with wealth, power, corruption and revenge in present-day China. It was released this month and shows how government officials continue to keep rules opaque and the ongoing threat of repression, which limits their role in the country’s development.

Of course, the combination of money and politics generates corruption

around the world “

“If you want to achieve something in China, you have to break into the gray areas,” Shum said in a telephone interview from his home in Britain. “We all licked blood with our tongues from the blade.”

Most of the events depicted in the book cannot be verified independently, but Shum’s view as a leading insider on the interaction between money and politics in China is not in doubt.

Shum’s memoirs show how the Communist Party does business – and what happens when businessmen resist (The New York Times)

The man was once married to Duan Weihong, who was close to the family of Wen Jiabao, the former Chinese prime minister. Doane, also known as Whitney, was a central figure in a 2012 New York Times investigation into the massive hidden wealth controlled by Wayne’s family members.

Duane disappeared in September 2017, though Shum said she contacted him before the book’s release to persuade him to stop publishing it.

Some readers may find it difficult to empathize with a former couple in the realm of power and great Chinese business leaders like them. However, the book describes the fortune they made by maneuvering and deceiving powerful government officials who used their influence to enter into transactions. Of course, the combination of money and politics breeds corruption around the world.

But Shum’s book appeared only when the future of China’s entrepreneurs came up. The government has cracked down on the most successful private companies, including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, and passenger carrier Didi. It has sentenced big businessmen who dared to criticize the government to long prison terms.

China’s supreme leader, Xi Jinping, urged businessmen to share their wealth with the rest of the country in an effort to achieve “common prosperity”, leading to fears that the state could stifle the private sector and the Communist Party give more dominance over everyday. life.

“The party has an almost animalistic instinct for oppression and control,” Shum wrote in the book. “This is one of the basic principles of the Leninist system,” he added.

In response to a request for comment, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the book was filled with unfounded allegations to discredit China.

Shum believes the majority of business owners are aware of the problems with the system, but only a few are willing to talk because the cost is too high.

Shum and Duan ran businesses during China’s so-called “gilded era” in the 1990s and 2000s, when the party relaxed its control over society to strengthen its legitimacy and project its goodwill toward the economy, following the 1989 Tiananmen suppression against pro-democracy protesters. At the time, the party often tried to keep the big business in check rather than twist their arms, to keep companies under its control and to help it take credit for China’s economic miracle. It meant persuading them to become party members and to join the ranks of the country’s legislators and political advisers.

And it worked. Many businessmen thought they could form a more open China. They sought property protection, an independent judiciary and a more transparent process of government decision-making to better protect the people, rich or otherwise, from party power. Some of them raised serious issues for the government during parliamentary sessions. Others supported NGOs, educational institutions and investigative media.

Desmond Shum with Duane Weihong in Switzerland in 2004. (The New York Times)
Desmond Shum with Duane Weihong in Switzerland in 2004 (The New York Times)

Short time

Shum believes the majority of business owners are aware of the problems with the system, but only a few are willing to talk because the cost is so high.

He said many businessmen have managed to transfer at least part of their assets abroad. And only a few make long-term investments because they pose a difficult and significant risk. “Only fools plan for the long term,” he said.

Schum’s observations are consistent with what others are saying. A Beijing-based businesswoman told me that “red roulette” cut a hole in the black box of China’s government’s business dynamics. Two property magnates told me about their disgraceful experience of having to stand outside a government official’s office for hours to get approval for their projects.

To get the green light to build the airport’s logistics center, Shum ate with officials almost every day for several years, paying for a bottle of the famous Chinese wine “moutai” with every meal. His servants brought good tea for the officials, did messages on their behalf and looked after the needs of their wives and children.

Shum wrote that one of his employees reported that he accompanied so many people on so many sauna outings that his skin began to flake off.

During the project period, the airport and municipality’s top officials were changed 3 times. And each time, Shum’s team had to start their fun process again.

Referring to the former prime minister’s family, he said: “Many people assumed that with the Wayne family protected, we would raise money without getting up in the morning to work. But the truth is, it was a lot stressful. “

© New York Times Foundation 2021

It was translated into Arabic by Al Jazeera’s leadership page

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