Bo Xilai

Bo Xilai case shows scale of corruption in party

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 10:43am

A perception of morality is inseparable from enduring one-party rule by consent. Ever since June 1989, when official corruption prompted students to march in the streets for political reform, corruption, especially among senior officials, has remained an issue for China's leaders. From Deng Xiaoping to Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao, the top leadership has repeatedly warned that the legitimacy of party rule is linked to the fight against corruption. As China prepares for a leadership transition, the outgoing hierarchy has struck the biggest blow yet in the campaign against corruption.

The indictment of "princeling" Bo Xilai, once a contender for the inner ruling sanctum of the Politburo, covers a range of serious crimes and violations of party discipline, including bribery. Bo's case is testament not only to Beijing's determination to fight corruption, but to how serious the cancer is within the party. The indictment, by inference, is damning of the party's efforts to rid itself of a malignant threat to its rule. It strengthens the argument of those who believe genuine political reforms, from the rule of law to democracy to transparent declarations of assets by senior leaders, may be the only effective way to keep it within benign bounds. Otherwise more cases like Bo's cannot be ruled out. After all, the indictment traces his corruption back to his years as mayor of Dalian from 1993. But this did not prevent promotion within the party hierarchy. Had it not been for the disclosures triggered by the attempted defection to the US of Bo's former henchman and police chief in Chongqing, he might by now have been assured of promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee. Unless it leads to reform, the Bo Xilai case may come to be seen as merely another power struggle rather than a meaningful blow in the fight against corruption.

As this whole affair has unfolded, it has at times seemed more political than legal. Official accounts of the cases of his wife and his former henchman have tended to distance Bo from them. Yet the verdict on Bo indicates heavy involvement. Many questions remain unanswered. The rule of law has been damaged rather than strengthened. That said, various factions have reached consensus that removes uncertainty from the lead-up to the 18th party congress, now fixed for November 8. Bo's expulsion, a blow to extreme left thinking in ruling circles, is seen as positive for the new leadership, especially president-in-waiting Xi Jinping, and China's future development.