Bo Xilai Trial 'Only Tip of the Iceberg'

A motorist drives past the Intermediate People's Court (C) in Jinan, Shandong Province where Chinese politician Bo Xilai was indicted, July 25, 2013.

As police gather outside court buildings in the eastern province of Shandong ahead of the long-awaited trial of fallen Chinese political star Bo Xilai, analysts say the carefully controlled trial is unlikely to reveal much about the backstage power struggles in the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Photos posted on popular Chinese social media sites on Tuesday showed police vehicles gathered outside court buildings in Jinan city, with police stopping cars approaching checkpoints near the courts in Shandong's provincial capital.

The talented and charismatic Bo, son of revolutionary veteran Bo Yibo and 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 spearheaded by Bo and Wang.

While political analysts have been hard at work ever since piecing together the political fallout surrounding Bo, little of the power struggles and negotiations going on behind the scenes at the heart of the Party since Wang's dramatic flight to Chengdu have been made public.

Canada-based political analyst and former Xinhua journalist Jiang Weiping served six years in prison on charges of revealing state secrets after he wrote articles exposing official corruption, including graft linked to Bo's earlier tenure in the northeastern port city of Dalian.

"Bo Xilai's trial will be a test of China's new generation of leaders, of whether or not they can live up to their promises to rule the country according to the law," Jiang said in a recent interview with RFA's Mandarin service.

Abuse of power

Bo, 64, was indicted last month at the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, and was 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.

But according to Jiang and other campaigners, the charges against Bo are likely only the tip of a much larger iceberg, which Party leaders are unwilling to reveal.

"There are many other crimes which have simply been covered up," said Jiang, who investigated Bo and his family in depth for many years.

"On the one hand, the government wants to accuse Bo Xilai of some crimes, so as to show how determined it is to stamp out corruption. But on the other, it wants to ensure that the Chinese Communist Party's position in power is protected."

"They are wavering between a rock and a hard place, so they have cut the charges against Bo Xilai."

Factional struggles

Analysts say the handling of Bo's case owes far more to complicated factional alliances at the very top than to a genuine attempt to stamp out graft.

In particular, they point to the success of former president Jiang Zemin in reasserting his political influence in the wake of the scandal.

In their book A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Murder, Money and an Epic Power Struggle in China, Pin Ho and Huang Wenguang frame the Party's discussions over what to do about Bo in terms of former president Hu Jintao's eleventh-hour support of Bo.

This, they say, may have ultimately cost him any political power he might have maintained after stepping down in March 2013.

"According to this book, Bo felt something very bad was brewing when Wang Lijun fled to the U.S. Consulate in February 2012, and he called on Jiang Zemin for help," wrote political analyst Wei Pu in a recent commentary broadcast on RFA's Cantonese Service.

"Jiang refused."

Wei added: "[Hu's original plan] was to have Bo Xilai enter the Politburo Standing Committee, so as to curb the power of his designated successor Xi Jinping, whom he didn't like very much."

"Hu was the last person among the highest echelons of leadership to drop support for Bo Xilai ... and he ultimately lost out, big time."

A staged affair?

Beijing University professor He Weifang said the background to Bo's case is highly unlikely to be visible at his trial, which is expected to be a carefully staged affair similar to those of Gu and Wang, in which a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion.

"This trial is unlikely to be either fair or open, because it involves too many complicated issues," He said. "They can't allow people to find out about the power struggles that have been going on in the background."

"I think [the Party] is finding it very difficult dealing with this trial, which has caused a great deal of trouble and internal conflict."

Shandong rights lawyer Liu Weiguo said he had recently been questioned by police over whether he would try to attend Bo's trial as a spectator.

"They asked me my view of the case, and I said the legal profession generally has little interest in this case, because it has nothing to do with the law, because his crimes have already been determined [by the Party], and because the whole thing will just be there for show," Liu said.

"Then they asked me if I was planning to sit in the spectator's gallery, but I said I wasn't interested and that I wouldn't go."

Meanwhile, the authorities have made moves to expunge positive references to Bo's work from the public domain, removing exhibits from a museum in Dalian, where Bo served as Party secretary, in recent weeks.

"When Bo Xilai was in power, whether in Dalian, in the commerce ministry, or in Chongqing, the official line was that he had achieved wonderful results," Jiang Weiping said.

"But since he fell from power, some traces of him have been deliberately removed."

Reported by He Ping and Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service, with commentary by Wei Pu for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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