A fatal car crash earlier this year has shaken the Chinese power structure and points to one of the gravest problems faced by new Communist Party chief Xi Jinping as he seeks to consolidate his leadership.
The accident involved the son of Ling Jihua, one of the top aides to then President Hu Jintao, who was killed in the crash along with one of two young women who were accompanying him.
As far as can be ascertained 23-year old Ling Gu died at the scene, yet shortly afterwards a message on his Facebook page proclaimed that he was alive and well and that his friends should not worry about him.
The message was a sham – an attempt to cover up a prime example of the partying, carousing lifestyle of the sons and daughters of China's ruling elite which is shocking the country and arousing resentment among the less fortunate.
Ling Gu was driving a Ferrari and he and his companions had been involved in a night of partying – not a good look for the leadership in a nation where 13 per cent of its 1.3 billion people still live on the poverty line of $1.25 a day.
It then emerged that the botched cover-up was engineered by Ling Jihua himself in an attempt to take the heat off his boss who was then involved in delicate negotiations over who his successor should be.
As a result, Hu's influence within the Politburo declined in favour of that of former President Jiang Zemin, who was able to ensure that his man, Xi Jinping, got the top job. As for Hu, he will carry almost no influence in the new administration having resigned all his secondary posts, including that of chairman of the military, which former leaders often retain.
The International Herald Tribune commented on the affair: 'The case also shows how the profligate lifestyles of leaders' relatives and friends can weigh heavily in backstage power tussles, especially as party skulduggery plays out under the intensifying glare of the media.'
As a result of this intensifying glare it is unlikely that the change in leadership will be the end of the story. Partly because of this and other problems, Xi has portrayed himself as a Mr Clean, pledging to implement the rule of law and tackling endemic Government corruption at all levels.
In a recent speech in the Great Hall of the People, XI spoke of curbing the powers of the Communist Party, firmly re-establishing the authority of the constitution and 'building a socialist nation ruled by law'.
He listed one of his targets as the over-lavish welcoming parties for foreign dignitaries, often attended by individuals who have no reason to be there other than their relationship with senior party officials.
However, China's problems go far deeper than that. The world has already been shocked by the disgrace of former rising star Bo Xilai, whose wife was accused of murdering a British businessman, and for developers and industrialists, it is just a case of putting money in the pockets of local corrupt officials to get free reign to build factories and pollute rivers at will, often disturbing and destroying entire villages in the process.
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About the Author
Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.
He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.