The Trial of Gu Kailai: A Veritable Farce

IITM CSC Article #35
27 August 2012
The Trial of Gu Kailai: A Veritable Farce
The trial and the sentencing of Gu Kailai, the wife of the former Chinese leader Bo Xilai was not only a political showpiece, but a farce. It was apparent from the very beginning that the Chinese authorities only wished to go through the motions of a trial largely to satisfy a highly sceptical public than to punish an alleged wrong doer. Two facts stand out. Firstly, both during the trial and in the explanations offered afterwards the defence, the prosecution and the presiding authorities all seemed remarkably of one mind. All seemed to agree that Gu Kailai was suffering from stress, insomnia, paranoia and tension generated as a result of ‘threats’ to the well being of her only son who was studying abroad and therefore was of ‘unsteady’ mind. No one challenged this hypothesis nor did anyone bring forward in the public domain what were the ‘economic’ compulsions that brought about this tragedy. Secondly, there seemed to be the unwritten rule that no one would raise the question of the ill-gotten wealth of the ‘red princelings’ and how such wealth was obtained and the extent of it. The Bo Xilai family are prominent members of the ‘red princelings’ that carry substantial power in China today.
The suspended death sentence that was awarded to Gu Kailai was but a negotiated effort directly linked to the politics now being played out in Beijing as it moves towards the 18th Party Congress, where the new leadership of China is due to be anointed. The link is obvious when Gu Kailai was addressed throughout as Bogu Kailai. The Chinese authorities wanted to make sure that no one in China missed the link for in the murky backroom deals that are made within the Communist Party, Bo Xilai despite being suspended, still is a popular figure and retains a large measure of support. The suspended sentence delivered to his wife was also intended as a message for him. Should he behave and toe the line expected of him, the sentence of his wife would remain suspended with every possibility of her being granted parole sooner rather than later on ‘health grounds.’ On the contrary, should Bo Xilai and his ardent supporters within the party refuse to toe the line or adopt an obstructionist course, Bo could easily be threatened that sentence of his wife could actually be carried out.
The international media was totally kept out of the trial at the Hefei Court and barely lasted a day. The lawyer for the Heywood family, He Zhengsheng openly stated that they ‘respect the Court’s ruling’ and probably would not consider any further appeal. This also became quite clear when a spokesman for the British Embassy in Beijing stated that Britain only wanted to see that ‘the trial conformed to international human rights standards and for death penalty not to be applied.’ [Emphasis added] Britain ever mindful of its immense commercial interests in China had no intention of upsetting the Chinese authorities. In a similar vein the accused Gu Kailai said that she felt that ‘the Court’s verdict is just. It shows the special respect for the law, reality and life.’ A Court official, Tang Yigan openly stated that both Gu Kailai and her coaccused Zhang Xiaojun would not appeal the verdict. In any other country such an assertion would usually be made by the accused or their attorney.
It would perhaps be safe to conclude that behind the high walls of Zhongnanhai, a deal between various contending factions of the party has already been worked out. The main points in contention are the nine seats on the powerful politburo. What are the dimensions of this deal we will only know later when the 18th Party Congress meets and its decisions are made public. In all probability that meeting would now proceed smoothly and the change over affected in once in a decade of the top leadership would also proceed smoothly. The question however remains what happens to the career of the once party favourite Bo Xilai. It will not be so easy to rehabilitate him so soon, nor will it be easy to ignore his obvious popularity. It is possible that he might be given a lesser assignment, perhaps even removed from the politburo and after a suitable time-interval rehabilited in the upper echelons of the party. This is of course mainly dependent on his continuation of toeing the party line.
 Otherwise it is also highly possible that Bo Xilai rides into the sunset and is forgotten. That the judicial system in China is an off shoot of the Communist Party is a foregone conclusion. This was clearly demonstrated in the sentence awarded to Gu Kailai. For a self confessed murderer, she received only a suspended death sentence. On the other hand, the Nobel Prize winning activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded a sentence far in excess of what Gu Kailai received and that too only for organizing and writing a petition.
Former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India
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