The fallout from the dismissal of former Chongqing Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai continues but the date of the CCP’s 18th Congress, delayed because of the controversy, has finally been announced.
On 26 July Gu Kailai, Bo’s wife, was sentenced to death with a two year stay of executions – effectively life imprisonment – for the murder of the British businessman Neil Heywood in Chonqing. Wang Lijun, Bo’s right-hand man who had been drafted in from his boss’s original powerbase in the northeast to spearhead the campaign against organised crime in Chongqing, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison on 24 September for ‘bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking’ after turning a blind eye to Gu’s admission of murder and fleeing to the US Consulate in Chengdu. These sentences seem strangely lenient in a country which has regularly used the death penalty for senior CCP and government officials who have been convicted of financial irregularities or other forms of corruption.
Bo himself was suspended from the CCP’s Politburo and Central Committee but retained his membership of the party until Friday 28 September when the Poliburo made two announcements which were clearly linked: the delayed CCP 18th National Congress would be convened on 8 November and Bo Xilai had been stripped of his party membership and would be brought to trial. Bo was accused of violating party discipline and corruption while serving as Mayor of Dalian, Minister of Commerce, Party Secretary of Chongqing and as a member of the Politburo; it has been alleged that he took bribes and manipulated political appointments to benefit himself, his family and associates, whilst ‘[maintaining] improper sexual relationships with a number of women’. There are also suggestions of involvement in other crimes as yet unspecified.
Bo was also removed as the Chongqing representative of the National People’s Congress, completing his political excommunication. In the announcement of the convening of the Party Congress the main tasks for the new leadership were outlined as devising strategies for a period of slower economic growth and dealing with widespread corruption. This is a clear indication that the impending trial of Bo is intended as a signal to all CCP officials that similar behaviour will not be tolerated.
Bo Xilai has supporters within the CCP who have fought against his dismissal and still cling to the possibility that he might make a political comeback. This looks unlikely but a senior forensic scientist responsible for prosecutions has suggested that the account of Neil Heywood’s death that was presented at Gu Kailai’s trial was not convincing as no evidence of cyanide poisoning had been presented in court. There are still some who believe that Bo was framed by his political opponents and that Gu might have been manipulated by Wang Lijun. It is likely that Bo will be tried before the 18th CCP National Congress opens on 8 November and it remains to be seen whether any genuine evidence emerges about his involvement in the murder or other crimes. ■
For more on China’s leadership transition, read Michael Dillon’s paper China’s Rulers: The Fifth Generation Takes Power.
Image courtesy of ojh98.
Michael Dillon is the author of China: A Modern History (which is now out in paperback), was founding Director of the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Durham, where he taught modern Chinese history. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Asiatic Society and was Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing in 2009. He currently teaches Chinese Studies at Newcastle University.