Why Zhou Yongkang's Secret Trial Was a Great Leap Backwards

A commentary by Bao Tong
china-zhou-yongkang-mar-2012-600.jpg Zhou Yongkang at the National People's Congress opening session in Beijing, March 5, 2012.

The Supreme Court made a solemn declaration that Zhou Yongkang would be tried in open court. Three months later, it had changed its tune on the Zhou case, and instead a trial was held in secret.

There were no changes to Chinese law, nor did the chairman of the Supreme Court change. "Tried in open court according to law" became "tried behind closed doors according to law."

The Chinese people knew nothing of this trial; they might as well have been deaf, blind, and dumb as well, because their voice was suppressed.

Some say Zhou was tried in secret because state secrets were involved, that ordinary people aren't allowed to know about. This is surprising. Didn't the trial of [former Chongqing party chief] Bo Xilai involve state secrets?

So the fact that Bo Xilai's wife murdered an Englishman wasn't a state secret, while the untold harm that would shame heaven perpetrated by Zhou is a sacred taboo that must by guarded on his behalf by party and state?

Why was Bo tried openly, while Zhou's trial had to be in secret?

The real problem is that China is regressing. In the past, there was no rule of law in China. But the Fourth Plenum [of the 18th Party Congress] declared that we would have the rule of law, and spread the word across the land.

Now it transpires that this was nothing but propaganda, and what appears to be regression, is indeed regression.

Maybe that's wise: The scandal was too much to bear, and disclosing it would have looked bad for the party, and jeopardized the reputation of both party and state.

Maybe they took a step backwards as a result of a series of carefully thought out and courageous decisions.

Perhaps the scandal had to be kept under wraps and confidentiality maintained as a fig leaf, and the dirty laundry of party and state had to be washed together, while the Chinese people had to be treated as gullible fools, and as the enemy.

Maybe all these factors lay behind their decision. But it is still wrong.

Next human rights white paper

I really don't know what they are going to write in next year's white paper on human rights in China.

Will it be recognized that the decision to hold a secret trial in Tianjin court after a top judge announced the trial would be open represents a retrograde step?

Will they admit that this is a step backwards after Bo Xilai's trial was held in open court?

The most important thing wasn't the length of sentence, it was the spirit of the rule of law, of democracy and of constitutional government; the spirit of putting the people in charge.

Some people have pointed out that the case was the first to break the convention that one doesn't put former members of the Politburo standing committee on trial.

But this has happened many times before: Mao Zedong punished former president Liu Shaoqi and former vice-premier Lin Biao, so why bring up Zhou Yongkang?

The real problem here is that the punishment was meted out by the party, not by the people. However hard we tried, we couldn't break the objectionable practice of denying the people the right to oversee officials large and small.

Such a practice is incompatible with the fight against corruption; rather, the two are inextricably entwined.

Inner sanctum of central control

Once party and government officials get into the inner sanctum of central control, they can't be sued by ordinary citizens, but come within the remit of disciplinary procedures issued by the party's central committee. The courts won't touch them and the media can't report on them.

The party manages its own officials to the point where their own citizens can't supervise them. Such is our stability maintenance system that is the product of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the dictatorship of the proletariat. A dead end: What more can be said?

What to do next? Some say the anti-corruption campaign needs some new tricks. Killing the chickens to frighten the monkeys is child's play.

It's not a new trick. It won't create a new society in which not fighting corruption is not an option.

If we want a world without tigers or flies, we must eliminate the conditions that allow corruption to flourish, by building a fair, just and open society that puts the people in the driving seat.

There are many ways to achieve such a situation. Where in the civilized world would you see the bizarre situation in which a head of state and a party central committee launch a campaign against corruption, then picked out which tigers should be hunted?

If we don't do this, all our efforts will go towards maintaining a corrupt system, while we cherry-pick a few examples who are to be sacrificed.

Even if we were to mobilize the entire strength of the party and the armed forces to go after corruption, there would still be large numbers who slipped through the net if we were only faking it, and if we did it for real, it would exhaust all our strength.

But not doing it will feed into seething resentment among the general public, which won't work in the long run.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, former political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.

Translator's note: Former head of China's ruling Communist Party's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission Zhou Yongkang was jailed for life after being found guilty of bribery, abuse of power and the intentional disclosure of state secrets by the Tianjin Intermediate People's Court on June 11, 2015.


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