Bo Xilai

No winners in showcase trial, observers say

Bo defiance did his case no good, but his legacy might create further tensions within the party

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 5:24am

While the gripping trial of fallen Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai was a landmark case in transparency for the mainland legal system, no winners emerged from the five-day saga, analysts said.

The flood of sensational details about Bo's family - including the complicated networks to solicit bribes and an alleged affair between Bo's wife Gu Kailai and his former police chief Wang Lijun - raise questions about how harsh a sentence Bo is likely to receive.

It is normal for the accused to defend himself. If Bo pleaded guilty immediately after the opening of the trial, it would just create an impression that it was merely a show
Zhang Ming, political analyst at Renmin University

Observers were taken aback when Bo, rather than pleading guilty, denied all three charges against him and launched a staunch defence that discredited Gu and Wang as witnesses. But the release of such details through an official microblog was a step designed to add more credibility to what was largely expected to be a tightly managed affair, they said.

"It is normal for the accused to defend himself," said Zhang Ming, a political analyst at Renmin University. "If Bo pleaded guilty immediately after the opening of the trial, it would just create an impression that it was merely a show."

There is little doubt that the trial and the pending verdict will destroy Bo's political career, putting an end to China's worst political crisis in decades. But, analysts said, Bo's defiance reinforced his standing among leftists who supported his spreading of ultraconservative thought in Chongqing, which triggered the power struggle in the first place.

"This is a process without winners," said Jonathan Holslag, head of research at the Brussels Institute Contemporary China Studies. "Politically, Bo is finished, but he has certainly caused new divisions within the Communist Party and confirmed the persistent bias of the Chinese political system towards nationalism and populism."

While showing his spirited side, Bo dared not criticise the party leadership. His most stunning attacks were directed against Gu and Wang - describing his estranged wife as "insane" and his former right-hand man as "vile" and obsessed with Gu.

"Bo was attempting to establish his political legacy by denying the charges," Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan said. "He portrayed himself as a victim, but avoided direct confrontation with the establishment, and did so within the bounds of the establishment.

"By doing so, Bo could solicit some support among some within the system. No one within the party would speak up and support Bo if he chose to directly challenge the establishment."

Party chief and President Xi Jinping's attempt to further consolidate his authority may still be challenged by the leftist groups, Zhang added.

Professor Gu Su , a political affairs analyst at Nanjing University, said Bo's legacy would be in tatters if he remained silent, and expected leftist groups to solicit support for him.

State-run media ran extensive commentaries over the past days denouncing Bo, pointing to what they said were his contradictory statements.

But the evidence presented to the court, while casting a shadow over Bo's family, also called into question the integrity of other government officials. The evidence revealed Xu Ming , a Dalian tycoon, bought a French villa for the family, and bankrolled a luxury lifestyle including overseas travel for her son Bo Guagua .

Those following the trial wonder if Bo's case is just the tip of an iceberg of rampant corruption facing the central government, especially because Gu, who had no official power, could manipulate the use of government funds to her benefit, and even the investigation into the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

"Even Bo's wife played a major role in his wrongdoing," Gu Su said. "People say other disasters will follow if limits are not placed on the power of official."

Gu Su believes Bo's trial will add weight to the cause of constitutionalism - subordinating the power of the party to the higher rule of law. State-run publications have denounced the movement in extensive commentaries .

Hong Kong-based political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the trial exposed the power struggle within the Communist Party, and it remained to be seen if the party would become more transparent in future.

Lau said Bo's supporters will not be convinced that he should be toppled, but the political base of Xi would remain secure.

"Bo's sympathisers will still support him, and those who find him a disgrace will not change their minds," Lau said. "The party leadership wants to convince people that Bo deserves punishment. The trial is not going to change anything."