China

Silence in court gives wind of reform

2012-08-15Asia Times

BEIJING - Few things could mark the future of China as much as the process that closed last week in the interior city of Hefei, in Anhui province, far from the international media, over a 1,000 miles from Beijing, against Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo Xilai, the man who wanted to put China on the path of neo-Maoism.

After Mao's death in 1981, the trial of his loyalists, the notorious Gang of Four, marked the country's political decision to embrace a policy of economic reforms. Similarly, Gu Kailai's conviction might - after so many controversies and debates - seal the party's decision to launch long-awaited political reforms.

This does not detract from the allegations against Gu, which are likely to be substantially true since they certainly had to pass the scrutiny of the many political allies of Bo Xilai, who was cornered by the amount of evidence. The fact is that Gu was accused and convicted of a nefarious crime - killing British citizen Neil Heywood.

The motive for the killing is still uncertain despite the first explanations of the proceedings in Hefei. The current talk in Beijing suggests it was a question of money. Heywood was sending Gu's money abroad, demanded a higher percentage from her, and Heywood was killed in response. There are signs of imbalance as well as arrogance: why kill someone when you could just pay it? It is known that when you launder money, the service is not free. Then she must either be mad or arrogant, and maybe both.

Yet, according to a second version, the story may be more complicated. Heywood is suspected of espionage, and this could explain the hurried silence with which the British Foreign Office accepted that the body of Heywood, a 41-year-old man in good health, was cremated just 48 hours after death.

In a system such as China's, crowded with shadows and suspects, even a vague scent of espionage may have been sufficient to set in motion the complex political machine that would depose Bo and initiate political reforms. If Heywood is a suspected spy, then Bo becomes a suspected traitor, an unforgivable sin for any Chinese - especially for someone like Bo who promoted a nationalist and populist ideology.

In other words, Bo becomes the man who poses as nationalist and anti-Western by day, and then turns out to be in cahoots with Western spies, and thus guilty of high treason, by night.

True or false, that version is more than enough to push the government on the road to political reform and openness with the West because it shows that the real traitors are or may be the nationalists. This, in other words, is discrediting the whole wing of the Party that supports a nationalist agenda and it is moving the balance of the Chinese political debate in a different direction, implying that true national interests lie in embracing the world not opposing it.

However, these facts remain too delicate to expose to the public in a courtroom or in print. This version can be obtained only from suspicions, faint deductions, and certainly there is no hardly any hard fact about it, and Beijing surely has no written admission from London that Heywood was indeed a spy. Even then, Bo's allies may not believe this admission from London, and Bo's friends may argue it's another plot against their guy. Moreover, the revelation that he collaborated with foreign agencies could publicly throw a shadow on the party apparatus.

Likely then, there is a strong effort within the court process and politically to keep the truth silent. At the same time, likely for this reason, despite the murder, Gu will be spared the death penalty on the basis that she worked to "make known the crimes of others." If she will be given the death penalty, this could be automatically extended to her husband, Bo, since he was at least as guilty of trying to conceal the murder.

The communist power base of China, unlike in other communist countries, was already very reluctant to use bloody purges at its top echelons during the days of Mao and of the Cultural Revolution. Deng, as he took power, went even further, he never executed his enemies and just kept them under house arrest for life. Even in 1981, with the trial of the infamous Maoist Gang of Four (who would have liked to execute Deng had they had a chance), death sentences were commuted to prison terms. Then today, 30 years later, there is even greater reason to expect leniency. That said, Bo and Gu are likely to end their days in jail, behind bars or at home under surveillance and not allowed to meet anyone.

This does not bring the story to the end. The fact that the court judgment also states that there are "other crimes" indicates that Bo Xilai's tribulations are still far from over.  (2012-08-15 Asia Times)

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