Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai did not go on trial this morning in the southern city ofGuiyang, capital of impoverished Guizhou province despite a story, well rumour actually, in well-connected Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao.
Chinese officials issued their denial only this morning, after a number of international news organisations had blown their dough.China’s willfully opaque justice system meant that despite plenty of signs that it wouldn’t be on, a number of journalists were lured to the city “just in case”. No formal charges have yet been leveled at Bo, who was moved from the even darker shadows of the Communist Party’s own internal system of arrest known as shanggui to the regular legal system.
The Party has been keen from the outset to throw as much mud as will stick on Bo, his wife Gu Kailai who is now in jail for murdering Briton Neil Heywood and Wang Lijun, Bo’s former police chief who set the ball rolling when he attempted to defect to the United States at its consulate in the western city of Chengdu. The Party wants to bury Bo, its now just mulling how deep. But they want to bury him in a way that will give his still substantial support base no recourse to accusation of unfairness. That’s why the two trials so far, of Gu and Wang have been nominally open to the public – the audience of course was carefully selected ahead of time and did not include any foreign media, although representatives from the British foreign service were present. So the government will lay charges and give at least a few days notice of the trial which the state run media today suggested would be held after the March “two meetings”. That’s when the National People’s Congress will convene to hand Xi Jinping the ceremonial title of President to go with his Party leadership and chairmanship of the Central Military Commission.
“The information in terms of the date and location for the trial will certainly be made public in advance, and it’s unnecessary to make speculations,” the Party owned Global Times said yesterday.
The other overriding reason is that Xi appears to be deadly serious about his battle against corruption that the Party’s leaders have long said quite publicly is the biggest threat to its hold on power. Xi appointed one of his very best men, former Vice Premier Wang Qishan to head the Party’s Central Discipline Inspection Committee and Wang has already been going about his business with some gusto. Last week Xi addressed the CDIC and said that he was keen to get both the “tigers” and the “flies.”
Quite a number of regional officials have been swept up in what now does appear to be a systematic and concerted drive
Some officials are so worried that they are dumping extra properties clearly not bought with ordinary officials salaries, onto the market. Almost 5,000 according to an alleged report from the Shanghai CDIC, quoted in local media but yesterday denied by the Party.
Nonetheless officials ought to be worried if the usual payoffs are failing to protect them.
Now the anti-corruption blitz appears to have netted its first big fish. And it’s a whopper. Hong Kong’s most respected Chinese language paper Ming Pao has reported that the target of a new investigation is none less than Li Jianguo a newly elected member of the Party’s Politburo and former Party Secretary of Shaanxi and Shandong.
If Li is nabbed for corruption – and just because he is being investigated doesn’t mean he is guilty – it will mean that Xi is serious but also that the Party needs to have a good hard look at its vetting processes.
Along with Bo, that would be two Politburo members in two years. Two tigers. Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg and Xi’s own Party trick will be to try and do some real cleaning up, while gingerly keeping the Party’s powerful families and interests group at arms length to avoid setting off cataclysmic infighting. But as the old saying goes, a fish rots from the head down.