The Trial Of Gu Kailai, Wife Of Disgraced Party Boss Bo Xilai, Is All About The Struggle At The Top In China
Gu Suhua writes from Beijing: So, the trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of the disgraced Communist Party boss, Bo Xilai, is scheduled for Thursday this week.
It’s a huge story in China. Imagine, a wife of a Politburo member standing trial for murder. It’s not every day you get so much excitement cramped into one court case. That’s why everybody is talking about it here, trying to figure out who set up whom and why. Because this trial is taking place at a very sensitive time for the nation when it is bracing itself for the 18th Party Congress in October that will decide who is going to run the country for the next decade. And considering that it is going to be a bumpy decade, full of all sorts of nasty surprises, the masses obviously would like to have some sort of idea who is going to steer the country through troubled waters.
In case you’ve missed it, there has been a vicious struggle for power at the very top in China going on for more than a year now, with the outgoing top guy, President Hu Jintao, who also happens to be the Secretary General of the Communist Party, trying to push upwards some of his closest allies, while his opponents are doing exactly the opposite, denying him the opportunity to continue having plenty of influence even after he stands down as president and party supremo. Something Hu has to do according to the rule of top leaders doing ten-year-old shifts in China.
Gu is officially charged with ‘intentional homicide’, of Neil Heywood, a British businessman, who was found dead in a hotel room in Chongqing last November. Xinhua, the state news agency, has already brought out the official version of the case, they way it happens in all self-respecting communist nations. The facts are clear, it wrote, and the evidence is irrefutable and substantial. Xinhua didn’t mention though that Heywood had revealed to his friends before he left Beijing for Chongqing last November that he was involved in laundering huge amounts of money for the Bo family. This is significant. If Gu is not going to be accused of corruption then it is likely that her husband will also not be arraigned for the same crime.
Bo Xilai, the son of a revolutionary general, Bo Yibo, has only been charged with ‘breaches of Party discipline’. According to the rules, officials suspected of infringing Party discipline are investigated by a Party Disciplinary Commission. The results of such cases are not usually published but the important things is that Bo will not have to appear in court.
This lenient attitude is in contrast to the campaign against the last high-flyer who was brought down to earth in September 2006: Chen Liangyu, Politburo member and Party secretary in Shanghai. He was accused of many economic crimes, such as helping cronies to obtain cheap loans. He was sent to prison for 18 years and expelled from the Party. He had made the mistake of refusing to implement orders by Hu Jintao thinking that his links to previous Party leadership were sufficient to protect him.
Some observers regard the decision not to put Bo on trial as evidence that law has taken second place to politics. The idea is to pretend things are going well, generally speaking, and the whole nation is waiting eagerly for the results of the vote at the 18th Party congress that will elect a new leadership. It’s rubbish, of course, with social and economic problems piling up in the country. But as foreign investors are given an impression that China is one big happy family, so that they don’t start withdrawing their money, the legend is kept alive by the commies who decided not to make a big fuss out of the downfall of Bo.
Technically, he could have been accused of putting together an ‘anti-Party faction’ of leading political figures and generals. Bo has some support among Politburo Standing Committee members and some military top brass. Chongqing Party cells, in discussing the cases of Bo and Gu, are instructed not to dwell on rumours that a possible coup at the top was in the making, with Bo being smack in the middle of it all.
Bo is unlikely to receive a long sentence. He may only be charged with ordering his people to intercept phone calls of Party and government elite and not maintaining discipline among those under his charge. He may also have to take responsibility for the attempt of Wang Lijun, his former police chief, to obtain political asylum in the US consulate in Chengdu. Apparently, it was Wang who had exposed Gu’s involvement in Heywood’s murder.
President Hu has warned Party members that ‘risks coming from outside the Party have become unprecedented’. It is necessary to pay more attention to ideology and ‘style of work’, he said. In communist speak, this means corruption is getting out of hand.
Hu’s main task is to ensure that the maximum number of members of his Communist Youth League faction are promoted to top positions at the 18th Party Congress. To do so, he has to do deals with other factions, including those who supported Bo. Now is not the time to make enemies, as Hu wants to remain a member of the Central Military Commission that gives him a lot of power within the military after he steps down in October. But not everyone is crazy about this scenario. So we can expect more infighting to continue and more disturbing questions about China’s future to arise.