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Geopolitics

Why The Bo Xilai Affair Isn't Just About China

Analysis: the ouster of Bo Xilai, one of China's most powerful political leaders, threatens to shake Beijing's domestic affairs. But the spectacular --and notably public-- fall from grace will reverberate around a world ever more influen

Bo Xilai's star seems to have disappeared from the galaxy of Chinese power for good. The heavyweight of Chongqing – one of China's top five mega-cities – was one of the best-known public figures in the country. He was a member of the Politburo, as well as a "princeling," an offspring of one of the heroes of the Chinese Revolution.

Bo never hid his ambition to achieve a place on the Standing Committee, the highest political institution in China that brings together the nine "emperors' who govern the country.

After two month of suspense during which no information escaped the thick walls of the Forbidden City, Bo's fall from grace has finally been made public. On April 10, he was suspended from all his Party duties and is now undergoing an investigation for "serious violations of discipline," otherwise known as corruption. Even worse, his wife, suspected of murdering a British national, has been handed over to the police.

Just six months before the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party – where seven of the nine positions on the Standing Committee will be elected, ushering in the next generation of leaders – this shadowy affair has revealed the true extent of the internal divisions within the Chinese leadership, and how much they could affect the future of the country.

"A serious political event..."

Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao who have been at the head of the party for 10 years certainly didn't expect to be handing over the reins at such an awkward moment. Their reign was expected to be one of "stability and harmony." And they have in fact helped China to become the second most powerful economy in the world, to recover its pride and power on the international stage and to realize, in 2008, its dream of organizing the Olympic Games.

As the regime hoped, many people believed that after Mao's dictatorship, the bloodshed of the Great Leap Forward and that of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, the Party had finally managed to establish a peaceful institutionalized process based on consensus for the handover of power within the country's leadership.

Brushing off the nagging question of political reform – how far the Party can go in relaxing its current stranglehold on power in order to promote economic and social development – those in power threw their weight behind these perceived steps forward. In doing so, they succeeded in convincing many Western observers, whose judgement is clouded by the impressive economic growth in China, of the progress being made.

But now, the fall of Bo is shaking everything. The People's Daily – a Chinese newspaper with close links to the government – has just admitted that it is "a serious political event, with negative consequences both inside and outside the country." In March, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao himself warned that "a historic tragedy like the Cultural Revolution could reoccur" if political and economic reforms are not implemented.

But there is one big difference between the Cultural Revolution and the current situation: Mao plunged his country into chaos with very little impact on the outside world. What is happening today inside the halls of power of the second biggest global economic power, on the other hand, threatens to have serious consequences for the rest of the planet as well.

Read more from Le Monde in French.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Western Tanks To Ukraine Trigger Russian Threats — But Also Fears Of Major Counterattack

Germany and the U.S. overcame months of reluctance in the past 24 hours to commit to sending heavy combat tanks to Ukraine. Russia responded with official bluster, but others in Moscow fear that the tanks delivery could be a gamechanger on the battlefield.

Picture of recently mobilized Russian troops

Recently mobilized Russian troops getting ready to depart for service

Cameron Manley

A week of growing expectations of a coming Russian offensive was turned on its head Wednesday as Germany and the U.S. announced their intention to send heavy combat tanks to Ukraine.

The sudden show of resolve on supplying tanks — after months of reluctance, particularly from Germany — has prompted some Russians to fear that Ukraine will now be equipped for a major counterattack. That would be significant reversal after speculation had been growing this month about a Russian spring offensive.

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Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government confirmed Wednesday morning that Berlin plans to send at least 14 German-built Leopard 2 tanks to the frontline. U.S. media also reported that Joe Biden’s administration is expected to officially announce Washington's commitment, with at least 30 M1 Abrams tanks expected to be sent.

The timeline remains unclear as to when the vehicles would make it into combat. Still, both sides on the war acknowledged that it is a significant development with the potential to change the math on the battlefield.

Official Russian response was loaded with typical incendiary rhetoric. Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian president Vladimir Putin, said the new tanks would "burn like all the rest, only these ones are expensive.”

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