Though the ruling Chinese Communist Party has pledged on the eve of a crucial leadership transition to draw a "profound lesson" from its worst political scandal in two decades, any meaningful change to the system that produced the fiasco remains unlikely, analysts said on Wednesday.
Speaking ahead of the Party's week long 18th Congress beginning Thursday, spokesman Cai Mingzhao said it has learned "extremely profound" lessons from the fall of former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, and from the jailing of his wife for the murder of a British businessman.
But Cai told a news conference in Beijing's Great Hall of the People that political reform has to be realistic, and that China's current system of one-party rule is unlikely to change.
"Our country is a society in transition. The phenomenon of corruption happens easily and often and is a long-term and arduous task for the Party," Cai said.
"The issues of Bo Xilai and Liu Zhijun ... occurred at senior levels within the party and are serious corruption cases; these lessons were extremely profound," Cai said.
Liu Zhijun was a former railways minister found guilty of corruption last year.
The Party last month expelled fallen Chinese political star Bo from its ranks following accusations of corruption and sexual misconduct, removing his parliamentary privilege and paving the way for a criminal trial.
Bo was also judged to bear "major responsibility" in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, for which his wife Gu Kailai was handed a suspended death sentence on Aug. 20.
His former police chief and right-hand man Wang Lijun was jailed for 15 years in September for "bending the law for selfish ends," "abuse of power," and "defection," after his Feb. 6 visit to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu brought the scandal to public attention.
A tougher approach?
Analysts said Cai's comments could herald a tougher approach to graft under economist and vice-premier Wang Qishan, who is tipped to head the Party's graft-busting body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, following the 18th Party Congress, which opens in Beijing on Thursday.
"They will want a heavy sentence to be meted out to Bo Xilai for corruption--maybe 20 years," said Willy Wo-lap Lam, former China editor of the South China Morning Post and author of five books on China.
"This will set the stage for a more rigorous anti-graft policy to be headed by Wang Qishan."
But he added: "It won't work, because in China, all anti-corruption efforts amount to the Party investigating itself."
Lam cited a refusal by Party Central Committee members to pass "sunshine laws" requiring all senior cadres to make public their personal assets and those of their family at a plenary meeting in 2010.
"Of course the proposal was shot down," he said in an e-mailed comment.
Problems 'stem from the system'
Canada-based political analyst and former Xinhua journalist Jiang Weiping, who served six years in prison on charges of revealing state secrets after he wrote articles exposing official corruption, including about Bo, agreed.
"China's problems are legion, but most of them stem from the system, and from the fact that there is no competitive electoral system for leadership," he wrote in a recent commentary broadcast on RFA's Mandarin service.
"Right now, reforms are being blocked by huge interest groups, which means that Xi Jinping will be no different from Hu Jintao; they are both on the horns of a dilemma," Jiang wrote.
He said China needs democratic elections and the rule of law more than it needed the revolutionary song and anti-crime campaigns that were the hallmark of Bo's rule in Chongqing.
"I have endured so much suffering, and my strong impression of the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976] is that it was the accumulation of so much enmity and revenge that had built up in the one-party system," Jiang said.
He called for the Party to split itself openly into "left" and "right" factions, and to contest elections against each other amid free media coverage.
But Cai added that while there may be greater efforts at promoting "intra-Party democracy" following the 18th Party Congress, the Party is unlikely to relinquish its grip on power.
"The leading position of the Communist Party in China is a decision made by history and by the people," he told reporters. "We have to unswervingly stick to the right path blazed by the Party."
Reported by Luisetta Mudie.