Chinese Commerce Minister Bo Xilai provided much drama at the Asia Society conference on Sunday.
Provoked by a question from a Wall Street Journal editor if China could learn about democracy and the rule of law from India, Bo virtually denounced democracy, arguing it was more important for a nation to feed its people than give them meaningless rights.
Bo is one of the Chinese Communist Party's stars. As mayor of Dalian, he transformed a town on the eastern coast of China into an economic miracle. Singapore Education Minister Tharman Shamugaratnam revealed in his speech at the Asia Society conference on Sunday afternoon that Bo sent camera crews to Singapore for a month to film how the city-State functions. He would then telecast the visuals on Dalian television at prime time every night to inform Dalian's residents how Singapore went about its business so they could learn from it and make the city equal to Singapore. Dalian today could teach Singapore a lesson or two.
Bo, who accorded President K R Narayanan a grand reception when the Indian leader visited Dalian in June 2000, may be excellently poised to take over the reins of power after President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao exit after their compulsory two terms in office.
He is only 57, is clearly bright, has the right lineage (his father was present at the ramparts in Beijing with Mao Zedong and Zhou en Lai when the People's Republic was founded on October 1, 1949) and has a most impressive resume (after his tenure in Dalian he is said to have done a good job as governor of Liaoning in northeast China).
Unlike other Chinese leaders who are greeted with respectful applause, Bo -- at least from the evidence presented at the Asia Society convention in Mumbai -- arouses rock star-like loyalty. His entry into the Grand Hyatt ballroom on Saturday afternoon was applauded loudly by the 200-strong delegation. His angry defence of China's policies on Sunday was greeted with equal applause. And when he paused to pose for photographs with the Chinese visitors after his speech, one couldn't recall the last Chinese or Indian leader evoking such excitement.
Clearly, a man to watch.
Photographs: Jewella C Miranda