Why has China’s ruling Communist Party allowed an unprecedented degree of openness at the trial of former rising star Bo Xilai?
The optimistic view is that China’s new leadership wants to demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law and fairness. But that is a naive interpretation, says Minxin Pei, Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College.
While the trial proceedings on the first day were refreshingly open by Chinese standards, that quickly changed. Transcripts were not released in real time on subsequent days, and they omitted some crucial details (for example, Bo claimed that the Party’s representatives threatened to execute his wife and prosecute his son if he refused to cooperate). ….Even more disturbing, on the second day of the trial, the Chinese police formally arrested Xu Zhiyong, a human-rights lawyer who was leading a campaign to force mandatory disclosure of the wealth of senior officials and their family members. The Chinese government has also begun a ferocious crackdown on social media, arresting prominent activists on dubious charges.
So there must be a different – and more political – interpretation of the Chinese government’s handling of Bo’s trial, Pei writes for Project Syndicate. It is worth recalling that purging him was a deeply divisive affair at the CCP’s highest levels. His patrons and allies could not save him, but they were well positioned to demand that his trial be conducted as openly as possible. Given Bo’s gift for dazzling an audience, his allies must have felt confident that a spirited defense would serve him well, both legally and politically.
Bo could have groveled his way through the trial, like other senior Party officials brought down by corruption scandals, and as most defendants have done in the long grim history of Communist show trials beginning with Stalin. But he apparently is not accepting his political demise as a final act – in his closing statement, Bo told the court that he wanted to keep his Party membership (he was expelled anyway) – and a comeback calculus may well have motivated his spirited performance. …..
Pei is a non-resident senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.