18th Party Congress

Bo Xilai's fate unknown as revelations emerge from confidants' trials

Analysts divided on how the former Chongqing party boss will be treated as revelations emerge from the cases of his two closest confidants

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2012, 7:23am

Lurid details brought to light by the trials of Bo Xilai's two closest confidants have begun to raise serious questions about the disgraced Politburo member's fate - the ultimate climax of the mainland's biggest political thriller in decades.

Although many expect Beijing to hand down a verdict on the former Chongqing party boss before the once-in-a-decade leadership change in the next month or so, political experts remain divided about what his future holds.

Evidence presented last month in the trial of Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood last year, left Bo largely in the clear. And the scattered clues included in Xinhua's official account of the case against Bo's former police chief, Wang Lijun, have led analysts to conflicting conclusions.

The Xinhua account confirmed a widely reported story about how Bo had slapped Wang after his aide confronted him about Gu's role in the killing. It was the first time Bo - a leading voice of the party's conservative wing - had been implicated of any potential wrongdoing.

Some see the account as an indication that Bo may face harsh punishment, including a possible criminal prosecution, for his role in the case.

But even the Xinhua account went out of its way to avoid Bo's name, saying only that Wang was slapped by the "principal person in charge of the Chongqing Municipal [Communist Party] Committee at the time".

Some analysts say such omissions suggest Beijing remains jittery about the political fallout from an explosive scandal involving one of the party's top leaders, especially what it might mean for party stability ahead of the 18th National Party Congress.

"In order to limit its implications for the all-important party congress and to guarantee a smooth transition, Bo is very likely to be dealt with leniently," said Professor Hu Xingdou, a Beijing-based analyst.

Authorities have also kept China-watchers wondering over the potential case against Bo. Was he only involved in unspecified violations of party discipline, as announced in April? Or will he be implicated in more serious criminal offences?

Professor Yuan Weishi, a historian at Guangzhou-based Sun Yat-sen University, said Xinhua's decision to detail Bo's falling out with Wang was a sure sign Bo may have to stand trial, potentially for helping his wife cover up the murder.

Lawyer Mo Shaoping agreed: "If Bo is found guilty of covering up for his wife, he will be subjected to jail sentences between three years and a decade. If he had known the murder plot before it occurred last year, he could be punished a lot harsher."

Another clue pointing to a potential criminal case in the Xinhua report was the indication that Wang had provided information on others in exchange for leniency, Beijing-based historian Zhang Lifan said. Although it did not name the individuals, it looked to be another reference to Bo.

While state media have gone to great lengths to explain how and why tension flared between Gu and Wang, it did not explain how Gu obtained the cyanide she reportedly used to kill Heywood. The trials and subsequent media reports have also failed to shed light on the business conflicts cited as Gu's motivation for the murder. They did not explain how Gu, a housewife, was able to "illegally investigate" police officers close to Wang.

Despite their differing predictions about Bo's fate, analysts agreed the party's top leaders appeared to be divided on how to handle Bo's case.

"Given the chaotic factional politics ahead of the leadership reshuffle, no one can say for sure how Bo's fate will be decided," Zhang said. "Even the top leadership may have yet to reach a consensus."

Observers noted the deliberate vagueness about Bo could suggest his fate was being kept uncertain to help break a deadlock ahead of the party congress.

"Instead of showcasing the rule of law as most people have expected, Beijing's handling of Bo's case looks set to be the result of compromises between party factions and various vested interests," Hu said.