Gu Suhua writes from Beijing: The Communist Party leadership is congratulating itself on a job well done. What job? Ensuring that the trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo Xilai, the disgraced former Party leader of the industrial megalopolis of Chongqing, lasted only for several hours.Typical Stalinist show trial with even a hint of justice missing. Worst PR China could have got before a change of leadership in October.
Gu pleaded guilty to all counts. End of story. The verdict will be pronounced later. Perhaps, it will be quietly announced after the 18th Party Congress in October. That would be a good way to bury it as the world’s media will be concentrating on who succeeds whom at the top of the Party and government. By the way, four policemen have been put on trial for suppressing evidence about Gu’s guilt. She pleaded guilty to poisoning Neil Heywood, a British businessman, in a Chongqing hotel room last November after a spat with him over their dealings.
Needless to say the story has the whole of China by the ears. Everyone is keen to learn more salacious details about the goings on among the communist elite. Gu has not been charged with corruption which would have carried a heavier penalty. She, it is claimed, acted after Heywood threatened her son’s safety. Many Chinese find this strange. Why should Heywood attempt to blackmail the wife of one of the most powerful politicians in China? Surely he was backing a loser if he did so. The Chinese are cynical when it comes to statements from the elite. Everyone knows its members are corrupt. Wen Jiabao, the Prime Minister, says corruption is the main danger to party rule. It is a cancer and has to be dealt with before the patient succumbs, he adds.
So what do the ordinary Chinese make of the legal proceedings against Gu? It is a charade. It has nothing to do with law or legality but everything to do with backroom politics. It is doing enormous damage to China’s reputation in the world. Who is going to invest big bucks in a country in which the rule of law is so blatantly flouted?
So the political leaders have scored an own goal. Heywood’s family accepted that he died from an excess of alcohol intake. The matter could have rested there. However, someone in the Chinese leadership decided it was a golden opportunity to strike against Bo Xilai who was too ambitious for their liking. He was cultivating a neo-Maoist image, singing Red songs and making friends with generals. So he had to be stopped.
Putting Bo, a Politburo member, on trial for murder was too dangerous and risked undermining the legitimacy of the party. So Gu was the fall girl. Let’s suppose she actually did poison Heywood. Would she have done it on her own without consulting her husband? It is hard to find a Chinese who would believe that.
As a result Bo’s political cronies will go down along with him. The trial of the four policemen is meant to destroy the police force which was loyal to Bo. Beijing has revealed that it can wield the mailed fist when under threat. A distinguishing mark of a communist regime is to act ruthlessly to protect itself. The interesting thing here is that the threat came from within the Party. There were no ‘counter-revolutionaries’ to be blamed.
So the net result is that the elite have scored a spectacular own goal. The rule of law does not prevail in China only the law of the Party elite. Foreign investors will think twice about putting buckets of money in China.
China faces unprecedented challenges. The Party’s hold on power is not as strong as it presents it. The middle class is increasing in numbers and wants accountable government. The Communist Party has to gradually embrace a more open society. If it does not, a social explosion may be the result.