Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Disgraced Party chief looms large over China's leadership

By Jaime A. FlorCruz, CNN
updated 12:12 AM EDT, Fri August 31, 2012
Former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai is still awaiting his fate after being removed from office in March.
Former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai is still awaiting his fate after being removed from office in March.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bo Xilai was a rising star in China's Communist Party before being removed from office
  • His wife, Gu Kailai, was recently convicted of murdering a British businessman
  • The Bo affair has already sparked China's most serious political crisis in decades
  • Analysts believe it has highlighted fissures in the top echelon of the Party

Editor's note: "Jaime's China" is a weekly column about Chinese society and politics. Jaime FlorCruz has lived and worked in China since 1971. He studied Chinese history at Peking University (1977-81) and was TIME Magazine's Beijing correspondent and bureau chief (1982-2000).

Beijing (CNN) -- As China looks to usher in its next generation of leaders, one of the messiest political scandals to hit the ruling Communist Party in years continues to fester.

Two weeks after Gu Kailai was given a suspended death sentence in connection with the death of a British businessman, many are wondering: What will happen to her husband, Bo Xilai?

Bo, 64, is a Communist Party "princeling." His father was a contemporary of Chairman Mao and Deng Xiaoping, and until recently Bo was a rising star in Chinese politics.

He was already in the party's 25-member Politburo and was seen as a contender for the nine-member Standing Committee that runs China.

But his political career unraveled abruptly when his wife, a lawyer and business consultant, was accused of murdering businessman Neil Heywood.

Gu Kailai avoids execution

China's Jackie O Stands By Her Man
Will scandal bring change to China?
What does Bo scandal mean for China?
Probing China's political drama

Gu's recent trial and conviction was swift. Although short in credibility, it has allowed Bo's political rivals to sideline him.

He has been in detention since April after being removed from his post in the Politburo and as the Party chief in Chongqing, a sprawling city in southwest China of more than 30 million people.

Curiously, Gu's trial avoided any connections between Bo and the murder. In fact, Bo's name was not even mentioned during the seven-hour trial.

Murder trial at heart of Chinese political scandal

Analysts say Bo would probably escape criminal charges but is likely to be expelled from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

"Getting expelled from the CCP is the nail in the coffin," said David Zweig, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Still, some analysts say Beijing is handling Bo with care.

"Excessively harsh treatment of Bo may cause a small earthquake in the political system because he is part of this network of princelings who also occupy important positions in the government and the military," said Wenfang Tang from the University of Iowa in the United States.

Gu Kailai, the woman who had it all

Getting expelled from the CCP is the nail in the coffin.
David Zweig

The Bo affair has already sparked China's most serious political crisis in decades and has revealed fissures in the top echelons of the normally opaque Communist Party.

"(Bo) was definitely part of this factional warfare," said Geremie Barme, a Sinologist and author who teaches at the Australia National University. "I think of Chinese factions as developing the moment somebody falls foul of the system."

This infighting comes ahead of the 18th Communist Party Congress.

Bo Xilai's fall from grace

Much is at stake.

The Congress, likely to be held in October, will announce the new lineup of leaders who will run China in the next decade. Jockeying for top positions is at final stage.

Another hot issue is the size of the Standing Committee, currently a nine-member body that runs the country.

Some reports say the new body might be pared down to seven members to make it more nimble and efficient -- and to drop from the elite body one slot reserved for the head of the Communist Party Central Commission on Political and Legal Affairs.

This Leninist body manages China's police, judges, lawyers and courts nationwide. It is now headed by Zhou Yongkang, believed to be an ally of Bo.

Bo and Gu on trial, in different ways

Other reports say it will remain a nine-member body to accommodate more representatives of the various factions.

Just as contentious are debates over policies.

"I suspect the agenda of the Congress will include such issues as social welfare, energy, environment, inequality and anti-corruption," said Zweig.

Ironically, they are some of the issues that Bo championed in Chongqing.

"Websites suggest Bo has public support ,but the new leadership can have 'Boism without Bo,' which means more housing for the poor, efforts to narrow inequality and fight corruption," Zweig added.

Corruption is one of the top reasons for the public dissatisfaction with the government.
Wenfang Tang

Chinese media last week said the Party is launching yet another five-year plan to curb corruption.

Lately the Chinese media have reported a slew of egregious graft cases.

For example, Wang Guoqiang, the party chief of Fengcheng city in northeastern Liaoning province, has reportedly fled to the U.S. allegedly with a loot of over $31 million, while Chinese police have put on their wanted list a certain Feng Sun -- the president of a local bank in Jiangying, Jiangsu province -- who is believed to have fled to Thailand with this family with stolen assets worth millions of dollars.

Small fry are easily caught.

In Shaanxi province, a village party chief was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison for allegedly swindling friends and the local government of millions in public funds, including money allocated for road construction.

"Corruption is one of the top reasons for the public dissatisfaction with the government," said Tang. "Clearly it hurts the very legitimacy of the CCP rule."

Yet, despite repeated campaigns, the CCP has failed to eliminate the scourge.

One reason, China watchers say, is its sheer prevalence in and outside the Party. "It's hard for a leader to stay clean when people find clever ways to bribe his or her spouse and other family members," Tang said.

The Party faces the other challenge of managing people's expectations.

"Things are a lot better now, but certainly there are a lot of people who are not doing well," observed Mike Chinoy, a former CNN correspondent and now a senior fellow at the University of Southern California's U.S.-China Institute in Los Angeles.

"The party needs to figure out how to be more responsive to the people. They can't just rule by dictate."

That is no longer possible, Chinoy explained, because of the emergence of the Internet and social networking services such as China's Twitter-like service, Weibo.

"The party cannot just tell people what to do," he said. "It's a much more interactive, back-and-forth process, so it's a brand new world for the party."

Adapting to the changing times, he added, will be the underlying theme of the upcoming Communist Party Congress.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:53 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
updated 5:57 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
North Korean refugees face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
updated 5:39 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
It'd be hard to find another country that has spent as much, and as furiously, as China on giving its next generation a head start.
updated 12:32 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
In 1985, Meng Weina set up China's first private special needs school in the southern city of Guangzhou.
updated 3:14 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
Despite China's inexorable economic rise, the U.S. is still an indispensable ally, especially in Asia. No one knows this more than the Asian giant's leaders, writes Kerry Brown.
updated 10:38 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
For the United States and China to announce a plan reducing carbon emissions by almost a third by the year 2030 is a watershed moment for climate politics on so many fronts.
updated 3:26 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
China shows off its new stealth fighter jet, but did it steal the design from an American company? Brian Todd reports.
updated 8:01 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
Airshow China in Zhuhai provides a rare glimpse of China's military and commercial aviation hardware.
updated 8:14 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
A new exchange initiative aims to bridge relations between the two countries .
updated 12:51 AM EST, Tue November 11, 2014
Xi and Abe's brief summit featured all the enthusiasm of two unhappy schoolboys forced to make up after a schoolyard dust-up.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
Maybe you've decided to show your partner love with a new iPhone. But how about 99 of them?
updated 9:19 PM EST, Sun November 2, 2014
Can China's Muslim minority fit in? One school is at the heart of an ambitious experiment to assimilate China's Uyghurs.
updated 9:55 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is one of thousands of Americans learning Chinese.
updated 12:00 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou says he needs to maintain good economic ties with China while trying to keep Beijing's push for reunification at bay.
updated 1:28 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Chinese drone-maker DJI wants to make aerial photography drones mainstream despite concerns about privacy.
updated 1:18 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
A top retired general confesses to taking bribes, becoming the highest-profile figure in China's military to be caught up in war on corruption.
ADVERTISEMENT