- - Thursday, August 29, 2013


The show trial in China of recently purged communist leader Bo Xilai has become an unexpected national sensation. Mr. Bo has cleverly — and some say with carefully delivered court eloquence — turned the tables on his accusers and indirectly on the Communist Party judicial system. And the incumbent Communist Party supreme leadership appears to be furious.

Chinese officials initially intended Mr. BoChina’s disgraced former Politburo member and former viceroy in the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing — to follow the face-saving routine during which the accused would readily confess all guilt to predesignated charges from the party leadership.

He was to have thanked the party for being resolute in fighting official corruption and then would beg current communist leaders for leniency before he would be handed a long-term prison sentence and disappear into political oblivion.

So confident that the show trial would proceed swimmingly as planned, the party staged a publicity stunt, promising unusual transparency for the proceedings, including live television broadcasts. It was expected that the trial, with no anticipation of any hiccups, would be over in just two days.

But Mr. Bo did not follow the script. Signs of the fallen official’s defiance began to show hours before the court opened Aug. 22, in a move that forced the party to relinquish the promise of live television coverage of the trial. Instead, the authorities chose to provide officially approved “live” text tweets of the courtroom drama on social media.

The court tweets proved shocking to the nation during the first day. Selectively released tweets indicated that Mr. Bo unexpectedly denied all charges lodged against him, with convincing rebuttals to the prosecution’s mechanical repetitions of various alleged crimes. More important, Mr. Bo challenged the fairness and legality of the court proceedings.

The court instruction, issued on the first day of the trial, demanded that Mr. Bo could not challenge the credibility, integrity and character of any witnesses against him.

Mr. Bo loudly protested this regulation as unfair and illegal.

“The prosecution stresses that the two key witnesses [against me] cannot be lying and I am the only one capable of lying,” Mr. Bo protested indirectly, contrary to the judge’s instructions. “This is not what I’d call fair.”

The charge was crucial because almost the entire prosecution case against Mr. Bo turned on confessions and testimonies by criminals already serving prison terms, including his wife, Gu Kailai.

On the trial’s first day, prosecutors spent hours laying out evidence and witness testimony trying to tie Mr. Bo to the purchase of a $3.5 million French vacation home.

But Mr. Bo shot back that the purchase was made without his knowledge by his wife, now in prison serving a suspended death sentence for murdering British businessman Neil Haywood, and her billionaire friend Xu Ming, also in detention.

The evidence against Mr. Bo on another charge — the alleged embezzlement of 5 million yuan, roughly $600,000, back in 2000 when Mr. Bo was the governor of the northeastern Liaoning province — also was based on single-person eyewitness accounts without convincing corroborative evidence.

The Chinese public became transfixed by the Bo court drama that initially was viewed as boring and insipid. Thousands of Bo supporters flooded to the city of Jinan, where the trial was held, to watch and deliver grievances, triggered by the trial proceedings that kept local police busy with arrests and detentions.

Bo Xilai turned out to be the cleanest senior cadre our country has produced,” exclaimed one tweet in the popular Sina Weibo messaging service.

Many Chinese citizens share that sentiment, and it is not without merit.

If all the charges against Mr. Bo are true — that he indeed took bribes and embezzled state funds in the amount of several million yuan — it would not have amounted to much, considering to the stupefying level and scope of official corruption committed by many other senior Communist Party officials throughout China.

The 90-year-old schoolteacher mother of former Premier Wen Jiabao, dubbed the “People’s Premier,” for example, was reported in a New York Times story as having a bank account worth $120 million — all accumulated while her son was China’s vice prime minister and then prime minister.

“The prime minister’s relatives have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion,” The Times said in the expose, which earned the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize.

Mr. Bo also rebuffed a charge of abuse of power, mainly related to an incident involving the attempted defection to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu by his police chief, Wang Lijun. The prosecution claimed Mr. Bo had threatened to kill Mr. Wang.

He asserted that Mr. Wang fled to the U.S. Consulate because he was having an affair with Mr. Bo’s wife. Mr. Bo discovered love letters to his wife and, in a rage, punched Mr. Wang in the face. Fearing for his own safety, Mr. Wang then attempted his defection, but the U.S. Consulate turned him away.

“My slapping forced him to flee [to the Americans]. That was the mistake I made,” Mr. Bo said in court, clearly relishing his newly gained notoriety.

“But that punch I threw at him inadvertently revealed a traitor, which is not really a small feat to accomplish.”

The party will soon decide its verdict in the case that observers say likely will be guilty.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected] and @yu_miles.

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