Inside Story
Murder, cover-ups and a political conspiracy?
We ask what the murder of a British businessman has revealed about the Chinese political establishment.
Last Modified: 11 Aug 2012 08:22

A British businessman poisoned in a Chinese city. The alleged killer: the wife of a man who was eyeing one of the nine seats at the highest level of political power, the Communist Party politburo. Was this killing connected in any way to political events, and could it, indeed, impact the election of a new generation of Chinese leaders?

The murder charge against the wife of senior Communist Party leader Bo Xilai has shaken China's political establishment as it prepares to elect a new governing politburo.

"It's not really about Gu Kailai. It is really about Bo Xilai .... Bo Xilai is a very able, charismatic, maverick type of figure in the Chinese top leadership, which is very unusual. And he's not just seeking promotion, he is pushing himself forward for promotion ... and clearly his ambition is not just being a member of the standing committee of the politburo. He is ambitious enough to want to be number one. And the heir apparent does not want him to be number one for obvious reasons .... When an opportunity finally came up they used it to oust him."

- Steve Tsang, the director of the China Policy Institute

The story goes back to November 2011, when the dead body of British businessman Neil Heywood was found in a hotel in Chongqing. The initial cause of death was said to be self-inflicted alcohol poisoning. But there were soon rumours about the possible involvement of his former business partner, Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo Xilai, who was the region's governor at the time.

In February 2012, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun sought refuge at the US embassy following what appeared to be a fallout with the governor. And, a month later, Bo Xilai was removed from his position as governor.

At the same time, the UK asked China to open a new inquiry into Heywood's death. His former close relationship with both Gu Kailai and her husband was now publicly acknowledged.

On April 10, Bo Xilai's hope of rising to the politburo was finally dashed when his Communist Party leadership was suspended and it was announced that his wife was being investigated in relation to Heywood's death.

Finally, on July 26, Gu Kailai and a family employee were charged with killing Heywood and sent to trial.

Now, the latest targets in the widening scandal are four senior police officers who investigated the death of Heywood and then apparently covered-up his murder. According to prosecutors, they made their decision upon learning that the most likely culprit was Gu Kailai.

They are accused of forging witness statements, hiding evidence and fabricating the story that Heywood died as a result of heavy drinking.

As more people find themselves in court, the Chinese authorities find themselves facing an increasingly difficult balancing act as they attempt to clean up the scandal surrounding Bo Xilai without further damaging the reputation of the Communist Party in which he wielded power.

So far, according to analysts, they are just about maintaining that balance.

So, is this case part of a wider political conspiracy?

Inside Story, with presenter Mike Hanna, discusses with guests: Joseph Cheng, a professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong; Steve Tsang, the director of the China Policy Institute in the UK and a professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham; and Gordon Chang, a former lawyer and the author of The Coming Collapse of China.


  • He is  son of a famous Communist Party leader
  • He was the governor and Communist Party chief in Chongqing, one of the largest cities in the world with a population of almost 33 million
  • There he led a high-profile campaign against organised crime and was a strong advocate of Maoist political ideas
  • He was, until recently, one of the most powerful figures in the Communist Party and many had predicted that he would rise to the highest office in government
  • But he was also described as ruthless and arrogant, mostly by his political opponents
  • He has not been seen in public since the investigation into him and his wife was announced


Al Jazeera
Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
Italy struggles to deal with growing flood of migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the nearest European shores.
Israel's Operation Protective Edge is the third major offensive on the Gaza Strip in six years.
Muslims and Arabs in the US say they face discrimination in many areas of life, 13 years after the 9/11 attacks.
At one UN site alone, approximately four children below the age of five are dying each day.
The Khmer Rouge tribunal is set to hear genocide charges for targeting ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslims.
'I'm dying anyway, one piece at a time' said Steve Fobister, who suffers from disabilities caused by mercury poisoning.
The world's newest professional sport comes from an unlikely source: video games.
The group's takeover of farms in Qaraqosh, 30km from Mosul, has caused fear among residents, and a jump in food prices.
Protests and online activism in recent months have brought a resurgence of ethnic Oromo nationalism in Ethiopia.
join our mailing list