By Li Weidong, Mainland independent politics observer
Original article at www.politicalchina.org.
A remarkable trial performance
I think Bo Xilai’s final statement in court is sincere. His words are moving and passionate. In his statement, he expressed his loyalty to the Party, his denial of corruption, his integrity in never bringing the shame to the family, and his love and tolerance for his wife. He accused the Central Discipline Inspection Commission officials of coercion in forcing him to confess to crimes [he didn’t commit], although he admitted that he had violated of the principles of the Party; ultimately, he denied the accusations of the crimes against him, and concluded his defense by insisting on his innocence.
The statement of the defense was persuasive. It not only consolidated what he already has but also won him more sympathy and admiration, making the already hapless prosecuting team look even weaker. Though he may stay in jail for the rest of his life, the trial strengthened his position as the leader of the “leftist” front. He triumphed in defeat. He is now without doubt a critical person in Chinese politics. It might be too early to say that he will be forgotten by history. Bo’s creativity and performance in his defense in Jinan court was relatively successful.
How did the prosecutors end up in such a weak position? Is it a misstep by Beijing caused by Bo’s withdrawn confession? Since Weibo had been used to disclose Bo’s transgressions, some critics of the trial initially claimed that, despite Bo’s refusal to plead guilty, there was no way for the authority to break the semblance of procedural justice of reporting the trial proceedings with Weibo. And Bo used this situation to his advantage to magnify his appeal to the public.
I had the same thought earlier. However, two pieces of information changed my mind. First, a week before the trial, there were two meetings to verify the legality of the evidence from both sides; Bo attended both meetings and expressed his opinion, which means both the prosecutor and the court already knew about Bo’s intent to withdraw his confession. Second, the law firm that offered Bo’s defense has a very close relationship with the government, which means it was their intent to assign the most skillful lawyers to Bo.
In the meantime, Beijing also allowed Jinan Intermediate People’s Court to maintain the appearance of procedural justice, so as to ensure a win-win outcome for the trial. Although it’s quite understandable that the judiciary side wanted it to be a showcase of due process, however superficial, what is the good in letting Bo win at the same time? Who is behind everything? Here are my answers to the questions.
A well-designed prosecution from Beijing
If it was not for the exposure of his wife’s murder of a British businessman, Bo could have been among a core group of men now leading the country. As a result, it was extremely difficult for the government to deal with Bo’s case, requiring a great deal of care.
Internally, the Xi administration first has to create solutions consistent with the modern rule of law. Not only should they make the results satisfying for as many people from both sides as possible to make “tigers” and “flies” fall in line, but they must also protect Bo’s dignity as one of the children of China’s revolutionary leaders. As a result, a sentence of 10 to 20 years imprisonment should be acceptable to all, which calls for a well-designed prosecution.
Externally, we can speculate that much effort has been dedicated to persuade the U.S. and British governments not to reveal the incriminating evidence that Wang Lijun took to the US Consulate General in Chengdu. Even the Western media showed indifference to Wang’s effort to seek political asylum. This could be seen as efforts made by Washington and London to build a good relationship with the Xi Administration.
After thorough investigation and continuous negotiation for that lasted for 16 months, Beijing has finally formed a consensus on the following. First, to depoliticize the case as much as possible; second, concentrate on things that were of light offence in nature and avoid touching illegal acts such as abuse of power during his anti-mafia campaign in Chongqing, conducting eavesdropping on central government leaders and using police force in pursuit of Wang Lijun; third, file charges on transgressions that happened when he was working in Liaoning and the Ministry of Commerce; and fourth, on the issue of covering up Gu Kailai’s murder, the focus is going to be on Bo slapping Wang Lijun, not on the lack of a motive of murder or the so-called Chonging project that involved 14 million Euros.
This carefully designed prosecution strategy left enough space for Bo to defend himself and to successfully create a high court drama that satisfied the rule of law people. It may also lead to a light sentence. Such a result will make both the leftist and the liberal camp happy and quickly get this high profile case out of public view.
Successful, but not perfect
But, as a politician who is good at acting, Bo overplayed his hand. He gained public support in the first two days of the trial, but lost it later while defending himself in a far-fetched and seemingly ridiculous way. He was too eager to fight for his acquittal and spoke too much, exposing many logical flaws and inconsistencies.
People can easily see that he and his wife spent way too much money on their son, that Bo offered silent support for his wife’s large-scale corruption and her use of business relations to maximize her own pocket, and that he had openly lied to the international media about his personal property. His lies have made all his court narratives questionable. He himself has been pursuing judicial fairness but he had grotesquely violated rule of law when he was in charge in Chongqing and he has not uttered a single word of contrition and apology. His feelings toward his wife were mixed with tolerance and resentment, which had colored his judgment of her crimes. His mingling of family matters with public affairs is what had eventually brought him down from the altar of power. These are the inherent flaws of the leftist leaders in China.
In short, Bo Xilai has fallen down from his stage, but the curtain hasn’t dropped. There is still a chance for him to manage a return. It is very likely that once the left wing comes into power again, Bo will receive amnesty and rise again as a populist leader. If the country becomes a democracy someday, Bo could still become a leader to represent one of the political forces at the time. The end of the history of Bo Xilai is yet to come.
Translated by Wen Wen, an intern with the Carter Center’s China Program.
Feature photo by Getty Images.