Bo: political implications of a non-political crime

2012-10-12Asia Times

It took about five years to bring the infamous Gang of Four to trial for the worst mistakes of the Cultural Revolution, but it took only five months to start the criminal process against Bo Xilai, former party chief of Chongqing.

The Four were arrested in 1976, about a month after the demise of Mao Zedong. Bo was arrested last March, similarly about a month after Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun tried to seek asylum in the US consulate in Chengdu. Neither the Gang of Four's trial nor what will happen with Bo is about simply excess or corruption, and both sets of events have massive political implications for the future of China.

The differences in the time taken to organize the trials is very significant. It took five years for the leadership to reach a consensus on a public trial of the Four. Deng Xiaoping had to be reinstated as paramount leader at the end of 1978, and Hua Guofeng, the man Mao wanted as his heir, had to be ousted as premier and party chairman in 1980 and 1981 respectively.

In the months following Bo's detention, no unexpected reshuffles have appeared alongside the long-planned leadership change, though this is still possible as his trial will possibly occur just days before the opening of the historical 18th Party Congress, due for November 8.

Despite the similarities in the political shade of the trials, there are marked differences between the two events. The Four did what they did in the midst of a revolutionary frenzy. For Bo, there was no revolutionary movement and everything spun off from a single, heinous and inexplicable crime: the killing of a British citizen by Bo's wife.

The political differences are huge. The Four could claim, as they did, that they were following Mao's orders - this gave them a political screen. Bo can't do that. He had nobody's orders to follow, and if he claimed so, this would not shield Bo but instead implicate his protector in the scandal.

Bo's fatal mistake, for which he will be tried and sentenced, has nothing to do with politics: it was his invovlement in a simple premeditated assassination, whose motives are still vague.

The incident itself is clear and beyond comprehension or forgiveness. Neil Heywood was called in from abroad and then within hours killed by Gu Kailai. Bo was informed of it and rather than start proceedings against Gu, he tried to cover it up, seeking the help of Wang as chief of police.

We can say with certainty that Bo is guilty of covering up murder. Moreover, one can think that Gu might not have killed Heywood if she was not sure she could count (as was the case) on her husband's assistance. Wang might have not fled to the US consulate without Bo's attempted cover up. Therefore, Bo could be found guilty of a deeper complicity in Heywood's murder, perhaps that he took part in its planning and execution of the murder, and certainly that he caused Wang's flight to the consulate.

In this sense, his faults could be considered more serious than those of his wife. Without Bo there could hardly have been a murder and there certainly would not have been any attempted flight. What kind of punishment would he face in America with these accusations? It could be a death sentence.

These crimes are not political. The only political issue is if Heywood was a spy: but this would only make things only worse given that Bo was on the verge of becoming one of the most powerful people in China and thus the world.

A crowd of other elements now emerging in China can be considered only aggravating, not decisive, circumstances. Bo confiscated properties valued some 200 billion yuan (US$32 billion) and arrested 17 out of the 20 richest people in Chongqing. This crime could be criminal or political. He approved the widespread use of torture in scores of underground detention centers? Maybe political, maybe criminal. He pocketed part of the proceedings of the confiscation and spread the rest among political allies? It is hard to see it as a crime or not, as China has no clear law about it.

But if one sees all these elements through the lens of the Heywood murder, then all becomes ugly and Bo becomes a blot tainting anything and anybody tied to him.

The clarity of the issue, the obscene crime and its political fall-out, might have hastened the process to reach a consensus on Bo. For the Four it was different: there was no single, apparent crime they had committed - their trial simply brought political closure to a damning historical period.

The fact that Bo's crime and the political fall-out are distinct could make the political consequences starker. This could also invite greater and clearer resistance from people associated with Bo or supporting his neo-Maoist tenets. This will make all following developments very important as they will be a clearer indication of where the Party wants to go after Bo's crimes.  (2012-10-12 Asia Times)


+MoreOther Commentary