After a year of unexplained delay, the trial of Bo Xilai (薄熙來), the former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary of Chongqing, is finally about to begin. Bo faces three charges: corruption, bribery and abuse of power. However, his real offense is that he challenged the party’s way of doing things. Moreover, his wife’s conviction for the widely publicized murder of British businessman Neil Heywood has severely embarrassed the CCP.
When the court finally convicts Bo — and he is certain to be convicted — he will probably face a prison term similar to that of former Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu (陳良宇), who received 18 years, or former Beijing party secretary Chen Xitong (陳希同), who was sentenced to 16 years. Like Bo, both men had been members of the CCP Central Committee, the Party’s inner circle — a status that allowed them to escape a death sentence, unlike the lower-ranking former Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun (劉志軍) following his conviction on similar charges of corruption and abuse of power.
For the CCP, however, Bo’s conviction will not mark the end of the scandal. Nor will the shadow cast over the CCP by his high-living, exiled son Bo Guagua (薄瓜瓜) and his homicidal wife, Gu Kailai (谷開來) simply disappear. However, the fall of Bo and his family hardly rises to the level of Shakespearean tragedy. King Lear this is not.
Of course, Bo and his wife and son have been morally dead for some time. Power sapped their humanity. The couple killed Heywood, her lover and business partner, and many other innocent people died as a result of Bo’s ambition. His thuggish chief henchman, the former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun (王立軍), fled to the US consulate in Chengdu, fearing that his life was in jeopardy because he knew too much about Heywood’s murder and Bo’s other crimes.
Still, the CCP wants nothing more than to whitewash the scandal. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has already scrapped charges of illicit sexual relations involving several women, signaling that such crimes are to remain hidden when Central Committee members commit them. This follows a similar official response to Chen Liangyu’s philandering and to Chen Xitong’s “Five Golden Flowers.”
Furthermore, charges that Bo received 20 million yuan (US$3.2 million) in bribes and misappropriated 5 million yuan are trivial compared to those leveled against Liu Zhijun. Thus, with his level of bribery deemed small, and his wife artfully scapegoated, the only high crime of which Bo stands accused is dereliction of duty. By limiting the charges, the CCP has limited the possible punishments.
As always where the CCP is concerned, Chinese law is mere window dressing. The law is applied sparingly, if at all, to the Party elite, and the interests of justice (at least as the outside world understands the term) are rarely the highest priority in such situations. A trial such as Bo’s is invariably part of a political deal among insiders.
The real story of Bo’s career — one of infidelity, betrayal and corruption — is appalling. The victims include the Heywood family, his Chinese wife and their children. Their tragedy stands as a profound indictment of the CCP’s rule, because no family is safe when governments are not subject to the rule of law. Happy households and harmonious states go together. However, in China, party leaders like Bo hold life-or-death power over citizens and their families.