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Inside China: Murder, Xi wrote

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The bizarre affair involving China's flamboyant princeling, former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, continues to dazzle the world following Bo's unceremonious ouster as the regional communist viceroy on March 15.

Late Tuesday night, the Chinese state-run media woke up the nation with another shocker: "Comrade Bo Xilai has committed disciplinary violations" so serious that the Communist Party of China's Central Committee decided to conduct a special investigation. Mr. Bo was also suspended from serving in the ruling 25-men ruling Politburo and the 204-member Central Committee.

The action is not without precedent. Since the founding of the communist state in 1949, close to half of all the Politburo members were purged in similar fashion.

The news was announced at 11 p.m. Beijing time. It was immediately followed by another announcement: Gu Kailai, Mr. Bo's 52-year-old wife, had been arrested on charges of having murdered a British businessman Neil Heywood last November.

Mr. Bo was fired from the post of Chongqing Party secretary in March but remained a member in the Politburo and the Central Committee, a sign of the power and intricate networks he commanded within the powerful party elites.

The latest action against him marks an official and complete ending of Mr. Bo's political life.

Suspension of membership in the ruling organizations means the expulsion is official and only will require a pro forma, retroactive affirmation at the next 18th Community Party Congress scheduled for the fall.

Heywood had been a custodian for Mr. Bo's young son, Bo Guagua, in Britain where he attended elite schools in England, including Harrow and Oxford, beginning at age 11.

Heywood was believed to be an intermediary who helped Mr. Bo and his wife transfer illicit state assets overseas reportedly worth more than $1 billion.

The official Xinhua announcement of Ms. Gu's arrest stated that Heywood had "developed a good relationship with Bo-Gu Kailai and their son, but the relationship got intensified due to conflicts between the two sides as a result of escalated disagreements over economic interests."

The official statement specifically confirmed that Heywood's death was a homicide and that "Bo-Gu Kailai and their household assistant Zhang Xiaojun are the prime suspects."

The official Chinese version of the cause of Heywood's death last November was alcohol poisoning, even though the British man was not a drinker. His body was summarily cremated without an autopsy.

Various Chinese sources reported that Heywood was poisoned to death by potassium cyanide. Mr. Bo's police chief, the would-be U.S. defector Wang Lijun, at one point informed Mr. Bo of Heywood's death and the results of his investigation, which prompted Mr. Bo to fly into a rage and begin to pressure Mr. Wang, who, in fear of his own life, fled to the U.S. Consulate in nearby Chengdu on Feb. 6 in what would prove to be a failed attempt to defect. Mr. Wang's attempted flight set off a chain reaction of events that ultimately led to the biggest political crisis facing Beijing since the bloody military crackdown on unarmed protesters in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Tellingly, the official arrest announcement used the unprecedented term "Bo-Gu Kailai" in describing Mr. Bo's wife. In China, the practice of using hyphenated names for married couples is never done. The peculiar application of "Bo-Gu" as her last name is an apparent attempt by authorities in Beijing to further link Mr. Bo to his alleged murderer wife.

Under Mr. Bo's rule first in the coastal city of Dalian and then in southern Chongqing over the past 20 years, at least six prominent figures from Bo-Gu's inner circle died of mysterious circumstances.

Until recently Mr. Bo was viewed as the leading challenger to Hu Jintao and his heir apparent Xi Jinping. In light of Mr. Bo's vast connections with numerous powerful Chinese princelings in key positions in the government and the People's Liberation Army, it is viewed by observers as far less risky for Mr. Hu and Mr. Xi to purge Mr. Bo by using criminal, instead of political charges.

SHOOT DOWN PYONGYANG'S ROCKET?

This week, Beijing is facing a litmus test on its claimed disapproval of North Korea's provocative rocket launch of what Pyongyang claims will be an attempt to orbit a satellite, but that the Pentagon is calling a long-range missile test.

That's because all nations adjacent to North Korea recently announced plans to shoot down Pyongyang's rocket if the booster goes astray over neighboring territories.

On Tuesday, Russia joined Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan in announcing that Moscow would use its missile defenses as well to shoot down the North Korean rocket or any parts if they should come near Russian territory.

The United States, which has a limited global missile defense system, already pledged its support for efforts to shoot down any stray rocket.

The chance that missile defenses will intercept the rocket is expected to force North Korea to orient the launch as far west from the Korean peninsula as possible, something that could bring it well over Chinese territory to avoid being shot down.

China publicly criticized Pyongyang's announced plans for the rocket launch but has yet to specify what its responses would be to the following scenarios: Will China accept Pyongyang's invite to send representatives to witness the launch? Will China shoot down the rocket if it comes into China? How will China vote in the United Nations on an anticipated U.S.-Japan-South Korea-sponsored resolution condemning the Pyongyang? How will China explain its continuing massive economic aid to Pyongyang?

These are Beijing's dilemmas.

Miles Yu's columns appear Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.

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