Argument

Little Bo Peepshow

China's six biggest political sex scandals.

On Friday, after months of furious speculation in the Western press and on Chinese social media, Xinhua, China's official news agency, finally announced that former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai had been expelled from the Communist Party, opening him up for prosecution and potentially a lengthy prison sentence.

Most of the official accusations against Bo are unsurprising. "Bo abused his power, made severe mistakes and bore major responsibility in the Wang Lijun incident," the report reads, in a reference to his former police chief who fled to the U.S. Consulate in February, "and the intentional homicide case of Bogu Kailai" -- a reference to his wife, convicted in August of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. He "seriously violated Party disciplines" as mayor and party secretary of Dalian, commerce minister, and Chongqing party chief, and "took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family," according to Xinhua.

In the middle of the list of charges is the following accusation: "Bo had or maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women." As with the other accusations, Xinhua doesn't elaborate, and Bo's alleged unfaithfulness to his wife hardly seems relevant. So what if he was getting some on the side?

But the Communist Party has long held an ambivalent view toward the sex life of its mandarins, dating back the mixed-up mores of its founder, Mao Zedong. Before emphasizing the importance of marriage and the family, Mao flirted with publicly advocating sex "as casual as drinking a glass of water" -- a philosophy he later took up in his private life.

Nowadays, as long as party officials remain loyal and keep their bedroom behavior private, sex is a personal matter. But once they fall, the curtain surrounding their private lives falls with them.

The significance of the charges against Bo thus lies not in their accuracy, but in the Communist Party's decision to use salaciousness to discredit him. As June Teufel Dreyer, a professor of political science at the University of Miami, told Bloomberg News, it fits a pattern "wherein the party decided that no one should be portrayed as having elements of both good and evil within them -- they were either wholly devoted to the party and the people or wholly evil and against them." The following is a list of six officials, high and low, who have been exposed:

1. Chen Liangyu

The previous Politburo member sacked, former Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Liangyu, who fell in 2006, was accused of the same dissolution as Bo. In an August 2007 article in Chinese state media entitled "Since Ancient Times, Corrupt Officials Have Been Very Lusty, Also a Characteristic of Today's "Corrupt and Lusty" (Officials)," the author cites the results of an investigation into Chen's background. Not only did he cause a "endanger the safety of the social security fund," but he was "morally corrupt, using the power of his position to philander with females, trading power for sex." Details of Chen's rumored mistresses remained scant, but he's not alone: A report in 2007 by China's top prosecutor's office, cited by ABC News, "disclosed that 14 out of 16 senior leaders punished in major graft cases since 2002 were involved in ‘trading power for sex' -- the official code for having one or more mistresses."

2. Lin Longfei

Generally speaking, the lower-ranking the official, the more granular the details that emerge. After Chen's downfall, a netizen created "The Guinness [World] Records of Mistresses." The winner of the "Creativity Award" is Lin Longfei, the former party secretary of Zhouning County in South China's Fujian Province. He reportedly invited his 22 mistresses to a banquet, and announced a biannual cash award to whichever women would provide him with the greatest satisfaction that year. This met with a "warm round of applause," writes the original blogger. China's official media doesn't go into that much detail on Lin's alleged antics, but uses language remarkably similar to the rap sheet against Bo. A February 2005 People's Daily article stating that Lin had been sentenced to death for corruption claims that "Lin maintained long-term improper sexual relations with a number of women."

3. Zhang Xiaochuan

Rivaling Lin in sheer cheek is the case of Zhang Xiaochuan, former deputy head of Chongqing municipality's propaganda department who was arrested in 2005 for corruption. Reports released after the case claim that Zhang, nicknamed "major thief flower picker" and "the coolest Radio TV bureau head," had more than 30 lovers in the Radio and TV bureau. One of his paramours supposedly went from being a nurse to the host of an arts and culture show, while another magically rose from kindergarten teacher to the head of the personnel division of a cable network company.

4. Xie Caiping

Scandalous allegations are not reserved only for men who cross the line. During Bo Xilai's crackdown on organized crime in Chongqing, judges sentenced a 46-year-old woman named Xie Caiping to 18 years in prison for running illegal gambling halls. Xie, the sister-in-law of the deputy police commissioner, has been called "the godmother of the Chongqing underworld." The most salacious rumor about her case: She was said to have kept a stable of 16 young men as her lovers. The Chongqing Evening News described her co-defendant and "confirmed lover" Luo Xuan, 26, as a "bright and valiant lad," with a "good tolerance for alcohol and a sweet mouth."

5. Liu Zhijun

In February 2011, five months before a high-speed train crash killed 40 people in Wenzhou and prompted much soul-searching about the state of China's railways industry, railways minister Liu Zhijun was sacked for "disciplinary violation." An article entitled "Sex, Power, Money," published in July 2011 in the nationalist tabloid the Global Times, claims that Liu "was reported to have 18 mistresses, including actresses, nurses and train stewards. He apparently had a thing for women in uniform or those who could play the role." Afterwards, a directive from the Central Propaganda Bureau warned, "All media are not to report or hype the news that Liu Zhijun had 18 mistresses."

6. Mao Zedong

As with most things in China, in the realm of mistresses, no one compares to the Great Helmsman. According to his private doctor and author of the biography The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Mao slept with hundreds, if not thousands of women. "At the height of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, he and [his wife] Jiang Qing were sexually estranged, but Mao had no problems with the young women he brought to his bed -- their numbers increasing and their average ages declining as Mao attempted to add years to his life according to the imperial formula," whereby sleeping with young women is said to enhance the ruler's vitality and longevity. Dr. Li treated women who contracted the STD trichomoniasis from Mao, writing, "The young women were proud to be infected," because the illness was a "badge of honor, testimony to their close relations with the Chairman."

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

National Security

Rock Fight

Japan could win a war for the Senkaku islands, but it wouldn't be easy. And certainly not without U.S. help.

In recent weeks, Japan and China have squared off over who owns a minor group of islands in the East China Sea. The unthinkable -- a perilous maritime war for seemingly trivial stakes -- no longer appears unthinkable. So how do you defend a group of uninhabited rocks and islets like the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands?

Mainly by positioning yourself to win the air and sea battle around the disputed archipelago. The obvious way to ward off attack -- stationing garrisons and artillery on the tiny, resource-poor islands -- should be a secondary measure. And it would likely prove a losing one, absent superiority in nearby seas and skies. Forces left ashore without external support would find themselves stranded and outgunned, not to mention hungry and thirsty.

To be sure, heavily armed ground detachments can convert islands with rugged terrain into virtual "porcupines," prickly to the touch. For instance, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) troops equipped with truck-launched anti-ship cruise missiles could give any naval assault force fits. They could dig in, hardening their positions against air and missile bombardment. Despite their small numbers, GSDF defenders would be exceedingly tough to dislodge.

But only for a time. Whoever controls the sea and sky will ultimately determine the islands' fate. If U.S.-Japanese naval, air, and ground forces can hold open access to the islands while fending off Chinese assailants, the allies would stand to win a limited clash. They can resupply defenders perched there, letting them hold out more or less indefinitely. But if China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) wrests control of the air and sea commons from the allies, on the other hand, it will be at liberty to cordon off the islands and starve out the defenders. And then Beijing will stand to win.

Were a battle over the Senkakus/Diaoyus to take place today, I would give China the edge, even though Japan holds the contested real estate and the United States has committed itself to the islands' defense. Geography and force are the main reasons why.

First consider the islands' geographic merits and drawbacks. The great fin de siècle seapower theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan classifies geostrategic assets by their position, strength, and resources. The Senkakus/Diaoyus occupy an awkward position near the southern tip of the undefended Ryukyus chain, closer to Taiwan than to the Japanese main islands and roughly equidistant between Okinawa and the Chinese mainland. The archipelago's natural defenses are so-so at best, owing to its small size and fragmentation into several islets.

The island chain's geography opens up options for a determined attacker. Rather than mount a full-scale assault, PLA occupiers could grab one island, place weaponry on it, and pummel Japanese GSDF sites from there -- seizing the rest over time through salami-slicing tactics. And since the islets offer virtually no natural resources to support garrisons, everything would have to be shipped in by sea or air. If China rules even a pocket of sea and airspace around the islands, it will probably get its way in a test of arms.

In Mahan's terms, the Senkakus/Diaoyus are like Gibraltar -- without the ideal strategic position or the forbidding natural defenses. And like Gibraltar, they would be entirely dependent on outside logistical support in wartime. Their geostrategic potential is minimal by all three of Mahan's measures.

Which leads to the configuration of forces. Mahan's British contemporary and sometime rival, British theorist Sir Julian Corbett, observes that limited maritime war is the prerogative of the belligerent that can isolate the theater through naval action while shielding its homeland from an "unlimited," asymmetric counterstroke -- a strike that would disarm its military from afar, unseat the government, or otherwise compel it to sue for peace.

The antagonist whose armed forces can make the sea an "insuperable physical obstacle" to enemy action enjoys the luxury of concentrating overpowering military might at decisive points in the theater -- improving its expeditionary forces' prospects of attaining operational, strategic, and political goals. The U.S.-Japan alliance is unlikely to escalate to strikes against the Chinese mainland for the sake of the Senkakus/Diaoyus. Japan has little capacity to mount such a threat, whereas the logic of nuclear deterrence eliminates any real chance of the United States' doing so. And thus, if the PLA can seal off the archipelago, it will meet Corbett's standard for limited war. The allies will never fully meet that standard.

If Tokyo wants to hold the islands over the long term, then, it needs to do some basic things. First and foremost, Japanese commanders and officials must figure out how to pry open and keep open access to the islands should the PLA actively dispute their access -- as it will, should China and Japan come to blows. Local command of the commons may demand staging naval and air forces in and around the Ryukyus, closer to the likely scene of combat.

Second, Japanese commanders must consider how to bar Chinese access to the embattled area. For example, deploying mobile anti-ship missiles on Yonaguni Island, at the extreme southwestern tip of the Ryukyus, would allow the GSDF to hold Chinese surface ships at risk around the Senkakus/Diaoyus. Stationing weaponry on the islets themselves would generate overlapping fields of fire. Mining nearby waters is worth considering, as is building large numbers of small, stealthy combatant ships armed with anti-ship missiles. Swarms of unobtrusive but deadly small craft could ruin Chinese commanders' whole day. Indeed, Beijing has premised its "anti-access" strategy vis-a-vis the U.S. Navy in part on such craft. Tokyo can take a page from Beijing's book, fashioning a small-scale, anti-access zone of its own.

Finally, Japanese officials must not overlook the politics of island defense. Blunting a PLA offensive may not come cheap, either in the Senkakus/Diaoyus or elsewhere. It is high time for Japan to reconsider its unofficial cap on defense spending, which has stood at 1 percent of gross domestic product for decades. This is not a serious enough commitment for a nation facing Japan's geostrategic predicament.

And however sincere Washington's assurances about helping defend the archipelago, Tokyo should not bank on its doing so with any real enthusiasm. U.S. leaders will not attach the same value to the Senkakus that Japan does. That disparity is apt to beget differences within the alliance over strategy and operations. To keep open their options, Japanese leaders should think ahead toward fielding weaponry and developing strategy for going it alone.

Defending these uninhabited islets, then, represents a microcosm of the larger dilemmas confronting Japan in maritime strategy. It poses a test of a high order for the Japanese military services -- and for the nation as a whole.

ANTOINE BOUTHIER/AFP/GettyImages