Clampdown on Public Opinion Ahead of Bo Trial

2013-08-08
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Police question journalists outside the court in Jinan, Shandong where Bo Xilai was indicted, July 25, 2013.
AFP

The ruling Chinese Communist Party is tightening its grip on public opinion ahead of the trial of China's fallen political star Bo Xilai, which is expected soon in the eastern province of Shandong, analysts said on Thursday.

Beijing police on Wednesday detained left-wing journalist Song Yangbiao after he called on ordinary Chinese to gatecrash the corruption trial of the former Chongqing Party chief, which observers say is likely to be highly orchestrated and result in a lengthy jail term.

"The thing the Chinese Communist Party fears most ahead of the Bo Xilai trial is losing control of society," said Jiang Weiping, a Canada-based political analyst and former journalist with the official Xinhua news agency.

"That's why they are taking a strict view of both the left and the right, and cracking down in particular on any [likelihood of] demonstrations on the streets," said Jiang, who served six years in prison on charges of revealing state secrets after he wrote articles exposing official corruption, including about Bo's tenure in Dalian.

"Everything they do is based on their concerns about [maintaining] the current political system."

Suppressing left-wing debate

Song, a reporter for the magazine the Time Weekly, was detained on Sunday on charges of "picking quarrels and causing trouble," according to his friend Lu Qi.

"I can't confirm the rest of it but I can confirm that he is being held for picking quarrels and causing trouble," Lu said in an interview.

According to He Liangliang, a commentator with the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, Song's detention shows the Chinese authorities are keen to suppress debate on the left-wing, Maoist faction which were key Bo supporters, as well as from more liberal quarters, which have already seen calls for greater transparency in the handling of his case.

"Song's detention shows us that they are suppressing the left just as much," He said.

But he said free discussion should be allowed, particularly on Chinese social media sites, about Bo's case.

"There are even bigger issues than Bo Xilai, including the issue of constitutional politics, and whether or not the rectification of [corrupt and wasteful working practices] will yield any result, not to mention the problem of the economy," He said.

Maintaining calm atmosphere

Jiang said the new administration of president Xi Jinping would be hoping to maintain a calm atmosphere ahead of the trial, which has already cast a deep shadow over the Party during its once-in-a-decade leadership transition.

"They want to unite the majority, and the thing they most fear is any sort of organized activity, whether that comes from the left or the right [of Chinese politics]," Jiang said.

"It's been a huge feat for them to detain Bo and to indict him already," he said.

Bo's case takes place amid a series of blistering attacks in state-run media against the growing calls for constitutional government among public intellectuals, petitioners, and rights activists.

Meanwhile, netizens have commented on the similarity between recent posters extolling Xi's slogan "the Chinese dream" and revolutionary propaganda from the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

Lawyer barred from representing Bo

In a further indication that Bo's conviction is a foregone conclusion, a lawyer appointed to represent disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai in his corruption case said on Thursday he has been denied permission to act on his behalf.

Gu Yushu told Reuters he was refused permission to represent Bo, despite having been instructed by Bo's sister, Bo Jieying.

Analysts say the carefully controlled trial will almost certainly result in a lengthy jail term similar to that handed down in comparable cases in recent years, but that it is unlikely to reveal much about the backstage power struggles in the Chinese Communist Party over the past year.

The talented and charismatic Bo, who is the son of revolutionary veteran Bo Yibo and is one of China's ruling class of communist "princelings," had once been widely tipped to rise from his post as Chongqing Party secretary to the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Party's Politburo.

But the flight of his police chief Wang Lijun to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, 2012, signaled that all was not well with the controversial "Chongqing model" of revolutionary ballads and large-scale anti-crime campaigns.

Bo, 64, was indicted last month at the Jinan Intermediate People's Court in the eastern province of Shandong and accused of receiving more than 20 million yuan (U.S. $3.26 million) in bribes and of embezzling another 5 million yuan (U.S. $815,000).

State media said Bo "took advantage of his position as a civil servant to seek gains for others ... [and] accepted bribes in the form of large amounts of money and property."

According to the charge sheet, Bo had embezzled a large amount of public money and abused his power, paving the way for a trial that follows the conviction of Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, who received a suspended death sentence for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in August 2012, and the sentencing of Wang Lijun to 15 years' imprisonment for corruption and defection last September.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service and by He Ping for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.