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Inside Story
China: Power, death and politics
As the Communist Party shifts to a new generation of leaders, what is the impact of the Bo Xilai scandal?
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2012 14:57

Wang Lijun, the former police chief at the centre of China's biggest political scandal in recent memory, has been sentenced to 15 years in jail.

"Bo Xilai, despite his impopularity among the majority of the establishment, he still has the support base of the far-left. And these people cannot just be brushed aside. Some kind of accommodation of these people has to be made and this is one of the factors that is delaying unity and harmony and the beginning of the congress."

- Willem van Kemenade, author

From violent death to gang wars, from bribery to political intrigue at the very top, the events surrounding the case have shaken the Chinese leadership and seen the wife of Bo Xilai, an influential communist politician, convicted of murder.

The corruption, party in-fighting and glimpses into a frowned-upon privileged lifestyle that Wang's actions revealed were nothing new as far as many in China were concerned – it had been whispered about and suspected for quite a while. But Wang involved outsiders – and opened the lid to public scrutiny – forcing the ruling party to have to take action just as publicly.

China's ruling party is transitioning to a new generation of leaders by the end of the year. And with social unrest already growing due to a widening wealth gap, the last thing the party needed was a political scandal that further undermined its systems.

Andrew Leung, an analyst, says: "The stability of the party is paramount …and no individual, no matter how able and no matter his track record or connections, would be allowed to threaten the party boat because it’s no good for anybody no matter what his or her affiliations are."

Chinese authorities hope Wang's sentence is enough to show that no one is above the law. Iit could have been much harsher, but prosecutors appealed for leniency because of Wang's "meritorious service" and cooperation in possibly bringing down other, more powerful players.

"There is a large group, in my opinion, that really believes democracy, rule of law and a more representative political system is the answer. Problem is, they don't know how to get there …. And of course there is a big reactionary group within the party which believes the party must hang on at all cost to one-party rule and there's no other alternative to that. So the split is very obvious and I think the Bo Xilai case ... is a syptom of these clashes that are going on within the party."

- Jamil Anderlini, Financial Times

The ruling Communist Party must now decide whether Bo Xilai, a powerful regional party chief who, until Wang's allegations, was seen as a rising star in the ruling party’s hierarchy, will face charges and what his future political career may be.

His downfall has thrown a roadblock in front of a leadership handover that was due to take place at a party congress later this year but which leaders might now have to delay to January.

So, how will the Communist Party manage the consequences of this scandal and just what does it mean for the party as it is about to begin its leadership transition?

Inside Story, with presenter David Foster, discusses with guests: Willem van Kemenade, a political analyst and author of several books on China's foreign relations; Frank Ching, a political commentator and lecturer at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; and Jamil Anderlini, the Financial Times Beijing bureau chief. Jamil has also recently authored a book called "The Bo Xilai Scandal: Power, death and politics in China."

"I think that very few people believe that China is a communist state anymore. People feel alienated .... There is a lot of dissatisfaction within China today between the haves and the have-nots and also between the people who are in power and the people who are a power and who want to be in power. Bo Xilai was very much a controversial figure in China."

Frank Ching,  political commentator


THE BO XILAI SCANDAL: 

  • In March 2012, Bo Xilai, the Communist Party chief in Chongqing, was removed from power
  • Soon after that, it emerges that there could be links between Bo and the death of British businessman Neil Heywood
  • On April 10, Bo is suspended from his position and his wife Gu Kailai, a lawyer, is investigated in connection with Heywood's death
  • Nearly four months later, Gu and a family employee - Zhang Xiaojun, are charged with the killing of Heywood
  • In August, Gu goes on trial for murder - a trial that lasts just one day
  • On the 20, Gu is found guilty and given a suspended death sentence
  • In September, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun is charged with defection, abuse of power and taking bribes
  • On Monday, Wang was sentenced to 15 years in jail -  a more lenient sentence than expected because he co-operated with the police investigation

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