Scandal will not affect Sino-US ties, Locke says
America's ambassador to China, Gary Locke, says the explosive Bo Xilai affair will not affect Sino-US relations because Washington will not 'get drawn' into one of the biggest political scandals to shake up the Communist Party leadership.
Appearing on CBS' Dan Rather Reports programme on Wednesday night, Locke spoke for the first time about the scandal amid speculation over the role Washington and Locke played in the incident that sparked it.
The Bo saga has been linked to the United States from the beginning, with the opening act of the high drama seeing Bo's right-hand man, Wang Lijun , flee to the US consulate in Chengdu on February 6 and ask for asylum.
When asked whether the US would get drawn into the scandal, involving political corruption and possibly murder, Locke told Rather via satellite from Beijing that while the scandal was of 'great interest and [the subject of] intense discussion among the Chinese people, the United States will not be affected'.
Bo has been sacked as party secretary of Chongqing and stripped of his membership of the Communist Party Politburo for 'serious discipline violations'. His wife, Gu Kailai, has been arrested for the alleged murder of a British businessman - a scandal that came to light when Wang fled to the US consulate.
'China is undergoing a leadership transition in the coming autumn,' Locke said. 'There will be a new set of leaders. Vice-President Xi Jinping is expected to be the president of China.
'But all that will be decided in autumn. China is really ruled and governed by a group of nine. And there is a lot of speculation, a lot of debate on who those nine will be. And of course one of the people who was expected to be vying to be one of the nine is now stripped of his positions and power within the government.'
Locke said online social media was forcing the government to become more open, echoing comments by his predecessor, Jon Huntsman. 'What's really interesting is the world of social media,' Locke said. 'The world of social media is now forcing the government to be a lot more open, to expose the shortcomings, whether there is a train crash, ... a food scandal to even corruption within the government.'
Appearing on a CNN International programme on Tuesday night, Huntsman said Beijing's handling of Bo's scandal suggested growing transparency within the party as a result of the popularity of social media.
Locke did not mention his personal role in the Bo saga, despite reports he supported granting asylum to Wang, who eventually left the consulate and was escorted to Beijing by state security officials.