Sometime last year Bo Guagua, Bo Xilai’s son, reportedly pulled up in a red Ferrari to meet Jon Huntsman’s daughter at the US ambassador’s residence in Beijing. The car was a symbol of the wealth gap in China and the all-too-common privileges afforded to China’s young political princelings. Some have even suggested it was one of the contributing factors to Bo Xilai’s ultimate downfall.
But did it actually happen?
On April 24th The Harvard Crimson printed a statement by Bo Guagua addressing many of the rumors floating around about him. One of the points said:
I have never driven a Ferrari. I have also not been to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing since 1998 (when I obtained a previous U.S. Visa), nor have I ever been to the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in China. Even my student Visas were issued by the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, which is closer to my home of five years.
This echoes the denial his father made at a press conference last month shortly before he was sacked.
Yesterday I contacted Jon Huntsman’s press office asking about the Ferrari incident and was simply told, “Unfortunately the Governor is not commenting on this story.”
I next contacted the US Embassy in Beijing. Richard Buangan, the embassy’s press secretary, told me by phone that he couldn’t confirm anything.
[Abby Huntsman Livingston] said her sister Mary Anne did share a ride with the younger Mr. Bo after dinner one night but did not notice the make of the car. Ms. Livingston added that she and a friend of Mr. Bo’s were also at the dinner that evening. “He was a very nice person,” she wrote. “I can’t confirm that a Ferrari was involved because I didn’t see it.” She did back up one thing Mr. Bo said: contrary to published accounts, he did not pick up her sister at the ambassador’s residence. “Not sure where the story originated from to be honest, nor does my family,” she wrote.
I tried contacting all three Huntsman sisters myself via their Facebook and Twitter pages, but there was no reply.
The Ferrari story was first exposed in an article by Jeremy Page in Wall Street Journal last November with no names or titles of sources given, citing only “several people familiar with [the episode].”
Anonymous sources are a fact of life with government/embassy officials who aren’t officially authorized to comment. But I emailed Jeremy Page to see if he could give some clarity about the sources he based his report on. I asked how many sources there were, who they’re affiliated with and if he approached them independently of one-another. Page sent a reply, not answering my questions but directing me to a Dow Jones (WSJ’s parent company) PR rep in New York. She said, “We don’t publicly discuss sources but we’re confident what we reported is true.”
Jeremy Page is a very reputable reporter (whom I and several other journalists have recently said deserves a Pulitzer for his Bo coverage). There’s little reason to doubt that reliable sources did indeed give him the Ferrari information, but who are they? Why do their accounts conflict so greatly with those of the parties directly involved? The issue has serious implications, not only for the Bo family, but also in how the ruling elite and their offspring are viewed in China.
Unfortunately I have more questions to offer at this point than answers, and until one of Page’s sources decides to speak up, it will probably stay that way.