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Chinese court’s ruling on Bo indication of Communist Party’s fears for future
Publication Date : 26-09-2013
The Chinese court ruling on former senior politician Bo Xilai was politically motivated and placed top priority on stabilising Chinese Communist Party rule. However, public discontent is simmering and there is uncertainty over the country’s future.
The court handed down a life sentence to Bo, a former Politburo member and Chongqing city party leader, who was charged with taking bribes, embezzlement and abuse of power. It is unusual for a former party leader to receive such a severe sentence.
Although China is supposedly ruled by law despite being a one-party state, rulings on important trials are basically decided by the Chinese Communist Party. China has a two-tiered justice system, but it is highly unlikely Bo’s sentence will be overturned, even if he appeals.
The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping decided to sentence Bo to life in prison apparently to show ordinary Chinese that it would never forgive corruption, even if senior party officials are involved. It also must have been intended to condemn Bo’s demagogic style, which could cause the party’s rule to disintegrate.
When he was party chief in Chongqing, Bo placed priority on the ideal of equality, which the party must have originally touted, and implemented policies to correct disparities, such as constructing affordable housing for the poor.
Bo aimed to join China’s supreme leadership. He had people sing revolutionary songs from the Mao Zedong era to show how much the people supported him.
The Xi administration probably feared that Bo’s style could ignite the people’s frustration against the current situation and lead to a flurry of criticism against the party.
Popularity still high
However, the court only examined the abuse of power charge in connection with Bo’s career as Chongqing party chief. His political style itself was not considered problematic in the ruling.
Bo still has strong public support, particularly among the poor. The Xi administration must have feared that the ruling, if it referred negatively to Bo’s political style, might have unnecessarily riled the public.
The fact that messages posted on the Internet, sympathetic to Bo and opposed to the ruling, were deleted indicates how alert the Chinese authorities were on the matter.
Bo categorically denied the charges and adopted a confrontational attitude. The life sentence apparently was intended to silence Bo and prevent the emergence of “another Bo Xilai”, who would stir up the people.
At around the same time as the trial, the Xi administration launched a corruption probe into senior officials of an oil company linked to former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, who was said to support Bo. This is aimed at dealing a blow to people linked to Bo and solidifying Xi’s power base.
Xi plans to hammer out economic structural reform measures at the general meeting of the party’s Central Committee scheduled for November.
Corruption and disparity problems will remain even if Bo is out of the picture. How Xi overcomes public discontent will hold the key to the party’s future.