Gu Suhua writes from Beijing: The Chinese communist leaders have decided to make an example of Bo Xilai, the former Politburo member and Party boss of Chongqing, a self-governing municipality of 32 million people. He is accused of corruption, abuse of power, accepting bribes, sexual impropriety and being an accessory to murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. The latter was found dead in a hotel room in Chongqing last November. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, has already been found guilty of his murder and has received a suspended death sentence. Wang Lijun, Bo’s police chief, aided her to suppress evidence of the killing. He was sent to jail for 15 years earlier this month.
Everyone in China was waiting to find out what would happen to Bo. It was assumed that he would appear before a Party disciplinary committee and get expelled from the Party and given a light sentence. The deliberations of the Party committee are never published. The reason for this line of thinking was that it was assumed that the Communist Party did not want a public trial of one of its top people. This would obviously undermine the legitimacy of the Party. Such is the concern about Bo’s popularity among ordinary people, that the Politburo decided to make a public spectacle of him, humiliate him and demonstrate to the public that no one can flout Party discipline. He will plead guilty to all charges and will get more than 15 years in jail. Wang Lijun has obviously provided enough ammunition about Bo inorder that he does not contest the prosecutor’s case.
The whole of China is agog with the news. Lurid tales of corruption, bribe taking and sex with many women will titillate the public. What does this public scandal tell us about the way the Middle Kingdom is ruled? It brings into the open the intense internal struggles in the Communist Party. The 18th Party Congress, originally scheduled for mid-October, will now open on 8 November. This points to the horse trading that is still going on. Apparently, the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee who rule the country have been agreed. Their portfolios have also been settled. Next come elections to the Politburo, the second most powerful institution in the Party and state. Then the Central Committee. Rumours circulate that the membership of the Central Military Commission has still not been settled.
All this gives the impression that the Party is in crisis. The leadership concedes that the existing political and economic model has reached the end of its shelf life. Far reaching reforms are needed to ensure that the country can cope with the problems, especially social problems, which are building up. The new leadership will take time to settle in so little real change can be expected in the first year. Can the country wait that long? The economy is slowing and an economic crisis would play into the hands of Bo’s supporters. They favour closing the gap between the haves and have nots.
But whatever happens, the foreign investors should be careful about their money. China is not at all stable as they want to think it is.