Chinese prosecutors have charged Gu Kailai with poisoning the businessman Neil Heywood. Beijing tries to play down her husband Bo Xilais's "crimes" for the sake of stability ahead of a crucial party congress.
Beijing's decision to charge the wife of disgraced Politburo member Bo Xilai, charismatic attorney Gu Kailai, with murder has confirmed a number of widespread speculations in political circles in the Chinese capital.
Firstly, by focusing attention on Gu, it is probable that "princeling" Bo, who used to be the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) boss of China's largest metropolis Chongqing, will be let off relatively lightly. As of now, the 63-year-old princeling, who is the son of revolutionary elder Bo Yibo, has only been accused in the official media of "serious infringement of party discipline."
Moreover, Gu was alleged to have committed "intentional murder" of British businessmen Neil Heywood last November largely owing to her intention to protect her son, Bo Guagua. There was no reference to the fact that Heywood had, before his fateful trip to Chongqing late last year, told friends he had run afoul of the Bos because of disputes over his role in helping them launder money overseas.
No corruption charges
This seems to indicate that neither Gu nor Bo will be charged with corruption. And if Bo's mistakes are confined to issues of party discipline, he does not even need to appear in court: the worst penalty that Bo faces will likely be expulsion from the CCP.
A senior party source in Beijing, that wants to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the topic, pointed out that the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) - China's highest-ruling council - had already decided not to go after Bo's other misdeed, that Bo is said to have committed: organizing a conspiratorial cabal of senior cadres and People's Liberation Army generals with the purpose of challenging if not also usurping the authority of President Hu Jintao and Vice-President Xi Jinping, Hu's anointed successor.
Tapping the phones of party leaders
"Bo may only be charged with trying to intercept the phone calls of senior party leaders," the source said. "He would also be held responsible for having groomed former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun." Wang, a former protégé of Bo's, ran afoul of his patron by exposing Gu's involvement in the Heywood murder. In early February, he tried to seek political asylum at the American consulate in nearby Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province.
Despite reports that Bo has been uncooperative with his investigators, it is likely that his case will be wrapped up - and disclosed to the public - at the 7th Plenary Session of the CCP Central Committee scheduled for September. This will clear the way for the opening in October of the 18th Party Congress, which will witness the passage of power from the Fourth Generation led by Hu to the Five-Generation under Xi.
In an editorial one day after Beijing disclosed formal charges against Gu, the official Global Times pointed out that the trial of Gu showed that in China, everybody was equal before the law. "The adjudication of this case according to the law will boost Chinese citizens' trust in the rule of law," said the party mouthpiece.
Politics before justice
Legal experts in China, however, have expressed fears that the authorities are determined to put politics before justice, in this instance, by downplaying the serious nature of Bo's offences for the sake of presenting a façade of unity to the outside world.
Noted human rights attorney Pu Zhiqiang, for example, asked why Gu was not implicated for corruption-related offences. "That Gu has not been accused of corruption shows it is likely that Bo will also not be charged with a similar crime," Pu told Hong Kong media.
Other analysts have pointed to the fact that Hu has good reasons not to go after Bo after ensuring that his opponent's political life is finished. The princeling's backers include former president Jiang Zemin as well as powerful princeling generals such as Political Commissar of the General Logistics Department Liu Yuan and the Political Commissar of the Second Artillery Corp (China's missile forces) Zhang Haiyang.
At this stage, Hu's major interest is not to promote rule of law but to strike a deal with leaders of other CCP factions to ensure that the maximum number of members of his Communist Youth League Faction will be promoted to senior slots at the 18th Party Congress.
Hu Jintao sees 'risks for the party'
In a major speech to senior party, government and military leaders last week, (July 23) Hu warned that the CCP faced immense challenges in its mission to remain China's viable ruling party. "Under new circumstances, the conditions behind the CCP's historical role and its rule, as well as the structure and composition of party members have undergone drastic changes," he said. "Risks coming from outside the party have become unprecedented."
To mitigate these risks, Hu indicated, "the party must manage itself in the most stringent manner." This included beefing up party members' "ideological construction" and "working style;" firming up organizations and institutions, and in particular, fighting corruption and promoting clean governance.
The fact that the Hu-led PBSC has chosen to put political expediency above principles of law and party discipline, however, seems to signal that the CCP leadership has continued to spurn political reform as well as global norms on good governance.
Author: Willy Lam
Editor: Matthias von Hein