After more than a year’s delay, criminal charges were brought on July 24 against Bo Xilai, the once rising Chinese Communist Party (CCP) star, now disgraced.
The long delay speaks to the high stakes involved. Now that charges have been brought, Communist Party head Xi Jinping must face the risks involved in sentencing Bo.
According to state-run media, he will be tried for bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power. The official charges mask the true character of this trial. Bo could have been charged with far more serious crimes, and this trial is not about simple misconduct in office.
This is a political trial that affects the fate of a large clique of individuals who were recently the most powerful figures in the CCP: the former paramount leader Jiang Zemin, who formed this clique; the long-time powerbroker and head of the intelligence services, Zeng Qinghong; and the former heads of the domestic security forces, Luo Gan and his successor Zhou Yongkang.
Bo was part of this group. They and other officials who followed their lead are responsible for the crimes against humanity committed in persecuting practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong. If Bo is given a light sentence, then this clique could breathe easy knowing they would not be held accountable for what they have done to Falun Gong practitioners.
Everyone in the CCP’s high levels knows why Xi Jinping should be wary of letting Bo Xilai get off easy. He was a usurper-in-waiting.
In the spheres of politics, economics, propaganda, and the military, Bo had laid the groundwork for taking power, and was only waiting for the right opportunity to unseat Xi Jinping. Had he done so, Xi Jinping can be sure that those whom Bo hated, such as Xi himself, former premier Wen Jiabao, and others, would have met quick deaths.
In this situation, if Xi lets Bo off, Xi can forget about any campaigns he has in mind to end corruption or rectify the CCP. By letting Bo off easy, Xi would be welcoming all comers to conspire against him at any time.
Perhaps Xi meant to send a signal that he is not that kind of fool by his recent handling of Jiang Zemin. On July 22, Jiang praised Xi’s leadership during a meeting with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The next day, Jiang’s name could not be found on a list of CCP officials honoring a deceased scholar.
The CCP uses such memorial lists to communicate who has power. The list was juggled, and Jiang, who likes to show his continued existence through his presence on memorial lists, fell completely off.
Jiang Zemin’s praise of Xi Jinping had been condescending. Like a compliment from a supreme ruler to a young child, it might have given people the illusion that Xi Jinping needs Jiang Zemin to hold himself firm. This insult only added to the list of reasons Xi Jinping has for opposing Jiang.
Persecution Not Sustainable
Top CCP officials know the core issue involved in Bo Xilai’s case is the persecution of Falun Gong.
Jiang Zemin’s clique had put their hopes in Bo Xilai. If he had taken power, he could have continued the persecution of Falun Gong, and the reckoning the Chinese nation will one day demand of them would have been postponed.
In considering Bo’s case, Xi needs to realize that continuing the persecution of Falun Gong is not an easy thing to do.
Consider the money involved. In 1998, the year before the persecution began, the total expenditures for public security in China totaled 40 billion yuan (US$6.56 billion), as calculated from the overall revenues and the funding ratios in the Statistical Yearbook. By 2012, the cost of public security had increased to 701.8 billion yuan (US $115 billion).
These expenses cannot be sustained. Whether one looks to media inside China or reports from think tanks or governments abroad, the message is the same: gloom about the Chinese economy’s prospects. The money is not going to be there to continue to fund this exorbitantly expensive persecution.
At the same time, the institutional basis for continuing the persecution has been uprooted, most likely at Xi Jinping’s direction.
The persecution has been carried about by the Political and Legal Affairs Committees (PLAC) at all administrative levels. Prior to the transition of power in November 2012, the secretary of the Central PLAC had a place on the Politburo Standing Committee, the small body that runs the Chinese regime, giving him a good deal of independence. Since November, the head of the PLAC has been merely a member of the Politburo and thus more easily controlled from above.
At the same time, Xi Jinping appears to be winding down the Reform Through Labor Camp System, which deprives the persecution of organizational and administrative support.
In the battle of ideas, the regime has lost. As early as 2002, the Chinese communist regime had for the most part stopped publicly denouncing Falun Gong.
Meanwhile, independent media outlets have consistently exposed the CCP’s crimes. Especially after the Epoch Times published Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, the Chinese people lost their trust in the CCP’s state-run media, and increasingly in the Party itself.
Moreover, the regime has lost all belief in itself. Even high-ranking officials try their best to become “naked officials” who send their wives, children, and assets abroad, while securing foreign passports for themselves.
The people of China sense that the regime is on its last leg. Ordinary citizens heap sarcasm and criticism on whatever the regime does, and whatever it opposes, the people enthusiastically support.
Should the CCP try to intensify the persecution of Falun Gong, public opinion will rally to support the Falun Gong practitioners.
In fact, more and more lawyers are stepping forward to defend Falun Gong practitioners. In a recent trial in Dalian, the lawyers even forced the court to make some concessions.
Around the world, the facts about the harvesting of organs from living Falun Gong practitioners are becoming widely known. The book Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs is recognized as an authority.
Right now, the United States House of Representatives is considering Resolution 281, which condemns organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China.
Du Bin’s movie Above the Ghosts’ Heads: The Women of Masanjia Labor Camp has received widespread coverage from major media outlets around the world and drawn global attention to the tortures that China’s labor camps are inflicting on Falun Gong practitioners.
Cleaning Up the Mess
If the persecution is getting harder and harder to continue, then the only option left to CCP officials is to do something to clean up the mess. Any such efforts will likely occur in a time of turmoil.
Many international investment firms and economists have predicted that 2014 will be the tipping point for China’s economy. It will collapse. Afterward, long-festering social crises will erupt. The people’s discontent will boil over, and they will demand that someone be blamed.
If Xi Jinping were to give Bo Xilai a lenient sentence and let off Jiang’s clique, the latter would seize the opportunity. Just as Gennady Yanayev did in the former Soviet Union, Jiang’s clique would have a good chance to launch a coup. Bo Xilai would regain power, and Xi Jinping and the officials allied with him would be named as the scapegoats.
A safer course for Xi Jinping, and one that is also just, would be for him to punish Bo Xilai commensurate with all his crimes and to apprehend the prime culprits responsible for the persecution of Falun Gong.
Zhang Tianliang, Ph.D. writes on China’s history and politics. He contributes to a variety of publications, including the New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television and Voice of America’s Chinese service.