Bo Xilai Trial: Reactions
The long-awaited trial of fallen Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power concluded on August 26th after five days, three more than expected. The date of the verdict’s announcement has yet to be decided. See updates posted before and during the trial at Bo Xilai Trial: Liveblog, and later ones below, latest first.
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In a ChinaFile Conversation on the Party’s putative fear of its own fragility, Ouyang Bin links Bo’s case with that of Xu Zhiyong, who was formally arrested a week ago.
What do Bo Xilai, the aggressive advocate of Maoism and ambitious princeling just tried for corruption, and the perseverant constitutionalist and moderate scholar Xu Zhiyong have in common?
Both men are regarded as challengers of the power and authority of the Chinese Communist Party. This is why Beijing is so tense and why the leadership’s current behavior is confusing to many people: the CCP thwarted Bo’s Maoist campaigns by putting him on trial and also detained Xu and smeared his so-called Western ideas.
[…] Beijing feels tense because the challenge may come from anywhere and everywhere—from lawyers, journalists, and peasants losing their lands; even from within its own Politburo. The Party’s tension and consequent repression makes everyone in China feel correspondingly tense. [Source]
After reporting on Tuesday that Gu Kailai and her son Bo Guagua might now face prosecution for economic crimes revealed during the trial, South China Morning Post’s Teddy Ng surveys the younger Bo’s options:
The proceedings appear to have limited Bo Guagua’s options; his mother is serving a suspended death sentence for murder and his father is waiting for what will almost certainly be a guilty verdict.
Moreover, evidence presented at court portrayed him as a pampered playboy who benefited from his mother’s ill-gotten money, making it even harder to return home.
[…] However, June Teufel Dreyer, a professor of political science at the University of Miami in Florida, said Guagua would have been too young to be deeply involved in any crimes his parents might have committed, and the central government would be unlikely to prosecute. [Source]
Despite Beijing’s framing of the Bo trial as a centerpiece of its anti-corruption efforts, relatively little analysis has focused on this aspect of the case. Many see the anti-corruption label as merely a cloak to conceal political machinations. From AP, for example, on Friday’s reports of an impending investigation of Bo’s former ally Zhou Yongkang:
“I think that the anti-corruption effort is just a political weapon used to take down whoever they want to take down,” said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing historian and elite politics expert. “Because when there is widespread institutional corruption, anti-graft efforts are not going to clean up the system. They are a means to get rid of political opponents.” [Source]
The relatively small scale of the economic crimes with which Bo was charged, the belief that he was in any case no more corrupt than many other officials, and the awareness that political wrongdoing was carefully left out of the indictment have all fed this impression. While much of the trial fizzed with colorful revelations of sex, violence and mysterious meat, Zhang Hong wrote at South China Morning Post that the mechanical details of Bo’s alleged corruption were unremarkable. Bo’s head is likely to serve as a poor trophy, a feeble deterrent, and possibly even a useful lesson for other corrupt officials, the Post’s Cary Huang reported:
Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham in England […] said the trial would not be enough to satisfy the anti-corruption sentiments in the country, but it would “mark ‘the bringing down of a tiger’, as Xi promised when he rose to the top”. “Few will be fooled, but it’s still better than not seeing this at all,” Tsang said.
[Xigen] Li, of City University [in Hong Kong], said the trial would not have an alarming effect on corrupt officials because cases like Bo’s could be manipulated to the point that the interests of the parties involved reached a balance.
“The case does allow corrupt officials to learn how to deal with their own material and monetary interests more tactically under the current situation,” Li said. [Source]
Tea Leaf Nation’s Rachel Lu, meanwhile, suggests that far from receiving an intended boost, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection’s credibility and perceived legitimacy may suffer from Bo’s trial:
The New York Times reports that, according to Bo’s family members, Bo told the Jinan court that “he had made one bribery confession last year to investigators only after being warned that his wife could be given the death sentence and his son, who had just graduated from Harvard, brought back to China to face charges,” and that “[Bo] had been interrogated hundreds of times and fainted 27 times.” In addition, according to the Hong-Kong based South China Morning Post, Bo testified that a high Commission official told him that “his charges could lead to a harsh verdict or a lenient one,” depending on his attitude.
These details were censored from the Jinan court’s Weibo tweets, likely to keep the Chinese public from learning about the Commission’s inner workings.
Bo’s parting shot at the Commission, however, may have long-term implications. The Commission probably prefers to uphold its image as the ultimate graft-buster, not a political machine manned by goons that threatens the lives of suspects’ families. [Source]
The trial has also prompted fresh and unwelcome calls, for example from Zhang Jiwei at Caixin, for mandatory disclosure of officials’ assets. The Diplomat’s Colleen Wong argues that unlike high-profile investigations and trials, this might offer a real remedy to China’s corruption problems:
The Chinese public has been calling for mandatory sunshine laws that force officials to declare their salaries, wealth, real estate, and other property since 1987. In 1995 the Party issued a regulation mandating that officials declare their wealth and assets to an internal Party body. Still, many have claimed the implementation of this order has been lax, and the information is in any case not publicly available. Consequently, 63 percent of corrupt provincial officials still get promoted even after they take bribes, according to a study by Tian Guoliang, a professor at the Central Party School.
Thus, the Chinese public appear no closer to having the Party heed their calls for sunshine laws today, then they were in 1987. Indeed, a series of pilot programs that were initiated in 2009 in places like Altay, Xinjiang Province; Liuyang, Hunan Province; and Cixi City, Zhejiang Province, have all been rolled back one by one. Some were eliminated because they were initiated by a single local leader, who subsequently retired or moved onto other areas. Other programs have been shuttered because of poor implementation. [Source]
Amid all this, Kathleen McLaughlin notes at Christian Science Monitor, little is heard from “the millions of Chinese people who have lost homes and property to corrupt development deals, or to businesses that have lost out to others that better curried favor with officials.”
A verdict and lengthy sentence are likely to be announced soon. Officials want to put the embarrassing Bo episode behind them. A day after the trial, the party announced that a much anticipated plenum of its Central Committee would take place in November. The theme for it will be “all-round deepening of reform”, meaning economic reform. Mr Bo’s case is intended to show the rule of law at work, picking out a bad apple. But for many Chinese, the impression may be that Mr Bo’s bullying and corruption was exceptional only in its flamboyance. Some may think it is the whole way of carrying on politics, with the seamless conjoining of the public and the personal, that should be in the dock. [Source]
While Bo’s sentence remains unknown, in at least one respect his story and those of Wang Lijun and Gu Kailai ended similarly. Xinhua published extensive accounts of Gu’s, Wang’s and Bo’s trials after they finished. Each report concluded with quotes from a local resident who had managed to gain access to limited seating in the courtroom. Each observer expressed satisfaction at the proceedings, and confidence in the equal application of the law and fairness of the verdict:
“This case has drawn great attention from the public,” said Jiang Tao, a local resident from the Yaohai District of Hefei. “I attended the full hearing and felt the solemnness of the court and inviolability of the law.”
“The public trial shows that everyone is equal before the law. I hope that the court will make a fair judgement in accordance with the law,” Jiang Tao said. [Source]
After the trials, Wu Qunfang, a resident from the Taoyuan community in the Chenghua District of Chengdu, said that after the trials they have fully understood the beginning and subsequent development of Wang Lijun’s case.
“We believe that all is equal before the law and expect a fair verdict from the people’s court,” Wu said. [Source]
“This is my first time to sit in the public gallery to hear the trial of a high-ranking official, which let me learn lots of the details of the case,” said Kong Xiangying, a resident in Tianqiao District, Jinan.
“Bo Xilai once was a senior Party official, but everybody is equal before the law. I believe the court will surely give a fair ruling,” Kong said. [Source]
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