Bo Xilai looks certain to be found guilty as corruption trial begins

Former Communist Party leader in Chongqing likely to escape death penalty if convicted

Thu, Aug 22, 2013, 01:00

The central court building in the Chinese city of Jinan, provincial capital of Shandong, is a tall skyscraper that looms over a group of administrative low-rise buildings below. Outside one of the shorter buildings is a glass-fronted noticeboard, containing eight typed notices about forthcoming events.

One of postcard-sized notes at the bottom stands out, but only for its contents. It reads: “At 8.30am today Bo Xilai will be tried in Courtroom Number Five on charges of corruption, accepting bribes and abuse of power.”

With this short statement, the stage is set for China’s trial of the century, when Bo Xilai, the handsome, suave leader who was once the rising star of the Communist Party, looks sure to be found guilty and one of the most comprehensive purges in contemporary political history will be complete.

His name is printed without title or honorific, no “comrade” here, as Mr Bo has already been stripped of his membership of the Communist Party.

Passersby take photographs of the announcement using their mobile phones, although when asked, they say they don’t know what is due to take place in the morning session at the courthouse.

Mr Bo’s populist ways as Communist Party boss in Chongqing made him some powerful enemies, and he was purged after a power struggle at the very top of the Communist Party between Maoists and “neo-Leftists” who feel the organisation is travelling too far down the capitalist road, and the possibly reform-minded faction behind new president Xi Jinping.

“I guess the more public the process is, the more confident the leadership are and the less they are bothered about any residual support for Bo,” said Sydney University’s Kerry Brown, who has studied China for many years including time at Chatham House and as a diplomat in the country.

Mr Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, and his former protégé and police chief Wang Lijun were jailed last year over China’s biggest political scandal in years, after Ms Gu was convicted of poisoning British businessman Neil Heywood in November 2011.

Mr Bo is likely to escape the death penalty, but to go to jail for a long time, and the party will hope to move on after a sentence that manages expectations of rival factions within the Communist Party.

“I think many overestimated how liked Bo was at the grass roots and how much this mattered. The bottom line is that no major political figure in China is that much liked, and so they can rise and fall as much as they like, there will be no mass uprisings.

“People get kicked off about less remote things,” said Mr Brown.