As the high-profile Chinese politician Bo Xilai goes to court over a scandal that has divided the country, his spectacular downfall exposes the messy infighting in the highest echelons of politics.
Bo’s case lifted the lid on the inner workings of the secretive ruling Chinese Communist Party, and exposed a rift between some of its members.
, taking bribery, and abuse of power, there are actually lots of people who still think highly of some of the public political initiatives that he launched in Chongqing city.”]
Bo was a charismatic and popular leader who looked set to join the upper ranks of the ruling party, but that was before a murder scandal involving his wife and a former police chief brought about his downfall.
Now he appears in public for the first time in 17 months, facing charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power.
His last public appearance before this was as a member of the Communist Party’s politburo, at the National People’s Congress in Beijing in March 2012
Before his undoing, Bo was a rising political star. He is the son of former Vice Premier Bo Yibo – one of the founders of the ruling party – and before he was ousted, he was the party chief in the southwestern city of Chongqing.
It was there that Bo made a name for himself, overseeing economic growth and social projects that made him hugely popular with the city’s 30 million residents.
His state-led economic policy even became known as the ‘Chongqing model’ and it won him many supporters among the left of the Communist Party.
Bo’s populist, and sometimes flamboyant, style was seen as a liability by some. But the decision to remove him from the party exposed a deep rift among party leaders that has rarely been seen in public.
His fall from power came after an associate, British businessman Neil Heywood, was found dead in a hotel room in November 2011.
It later emerged that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was behind the killing. She was handed a suspended death sentence by the court, after she admitted to poisoning Heywood at her trial last year.
The scandal was triggered after Bo’s trusted police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a US consulate in a neighbouring city last year, an event that embarrassed the Communist Party’s leadership ahead of a key political transition.
It would later emerge that Wang had evidence of Heywood’s murder, which made the Bo family an international diplomatic liability for the Chinese leadership.
So, how will the Communist Party wrap up this scandal? And what does this mean for China’s transparency and Bo’s future?
To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Victor Gao, the director of the China National Association of International Studies, who previously worked in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Roderic Wye, an associate fellow at the Asia programme at Chatham House; and Steve Tsang, the director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham.
“The Bo Xilai case is a very important one for the Chinese leadership, because [he] was somebody who was expected to rise to become one of them, amongst the top seven most powerful people, and he was brought down just before [he] was able to get there. So in that sense it’s terribly important, and for that reason I think the whole trial will already have its script written up. Everything will have been agreed and approved by the top leadership before the actual trial.”
Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham
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