Bo Xilai’s life sentence allows China’s leadership to put scandal to rest

The populist politician had enemies in high places, but importantly some supporters too

Qingdao

Bo Xilai was led away in handcuffs on Sunday after a court sentenced the one-time rising star of the Communist Party to life in prison for corruption, bringing down the curtain on China’s biggest political scandal in decades.

The Jinan Intermediate People’s Court also deprived Bo of his political rights for life and confiscated all his personal assets.

While Bo is likely to appeal, the verdict brings to an end the career of one of China’s most high-profile populist politicians, who previously served as the Communist Party boss in the south-western city of Chongqing and the mayor of the rich coastal city of Dalian.

He looked destined for the very top until he suddenly disappeared from public view in April last year, following accusations that his wife, Gu Kailai, had poisoned her business partner, the British man Neil Heywood.

Gu Kailai was found guilty earlier this year, and Bo was eventually convicted of attempting to cover up her crime and of taking 27 million yuan (£2.75m) in illegal payments from prominent tycoons.

He mounted a spirited defence of his business and political dealings in court, denying all charges of embezzlement, bribery and corruption.

While Bo is clearly not expecting a reversal of the verdict under the current political setup, he may well be betting on the system not surviving for long, according to Steve Tsang, of the China Policy Research Institute at the University of Nottingham. If it collapsed, his courageous public defiance should put him in a better position, Mr Tsang said.

There had been some speculation that Bo would be executed, as a way of permanently removing him as a threat to the current leadership. However, he has lingering support within the upper echelons of the Communist Party and it is unlikely they would have tolerated the killing of one of their own.

Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Sydney, said in a commentary for the BBC: “Despite the great exception of Deng Xiaoping, who came back from the political graveyard three times, he is highly unlikely to ever emerge again as a leader.

“With Bo Xilai’s demise, the Communist Party of China has lost the most talented politician of his generation.

“It is a bit like the UK Labour Party dismissing Tony Blair just before 1997 when it stood to win the election that year. Bo’s charisma and his natural political gifts put him in the same league as these figures.”

Bo is more likely to suffer the same fate as other high-level figures who have fallen from favour, such as the late mayor of Beijing, Chen Xitong, who was toppled in the late 1990s, and the former party leader Zhao Ziyang, who was ousted for talking to the student leaders ahead of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

President Xi Jinping has used the case to signal his determination to push through anti-corruption measures.

The party is also likely to use the trial as a demonstration of how China’s rule of law is a force to be reckoned with, although outside China it is unlikely to be seen as a triumph of justice.

There was lingering support for the purged politician on China’s popular social media sites.

Bu Neng Xiao Yu wrote on the Sina Weibo microblogging service: “I have lived in Chongqing for 10 years and I experienced what he did for Chongqing people. Leaving his own crimes aside, I feel it’s really not worth it to have such a wife.”

Bo is likely to serve his sentence at the Qincheng prison near Beijing,  which is seen as a relatively soft option, with no uniforms, adequate living space and medical facilities.

Cui Wenlong wrote on Sina Weibo: “I heard that the cost of everyday meals [inside the prison] is 200 yuan, which means 6,000 yuan a month. The average salary in Beijing is only 5,000 yuan.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests