Fall of China's rising star trumpeted by state media

Bo Xilai's wife faces 'politicised' murder trial as Communist Party looks set to expand purge

Beijing

The fall from grace of one-time rising star of Chinese politics Bo Xilai and accusations that his wife murdered a British businessman dominated the state news yesterday, while social media enthusiasts sought to get around internet controls to work out what this 21st-century Communist purge would mean for China.

It now looks like the collateral damage from the purge will take down Mr Bo's whole family, including his wife Gu Kailai and son Bo Guagua, and exposes bitter divisions in the political elite in China. Were this a film, it would be pitched as a cross between The Sopranos and an early John le Carre novel.

The Communist Party's official organ, the People's Daily, ran an editorial saying that no one is above the law, which has convinced many that Ms Gu will suffer the full consequences of a trial.

On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of the banned Twitter service, the words "Bo" and "Xilai" were banned terms yesterday, so people searched under "serious breach of the rules" to try to work out the significance of the news.

The Briton, Neil Heywood, was an associate of Gu Kailai, and had other links to the deposed leader, including mentoring their son Bo Guagua. Mr Heywood died in November in Chongqing of apparently natural causes, but Ms Gu has been accused of having him killed. Mr Bo, who was sacked as party boss in Chongqing last month, has been expelled from the Politburo and the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and is being investigated by the party's disciplinary commission.

Steve Yui-sang Tsang, professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies and director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham, spoke of the "slow-motion curtain coming down on Bo Xilai".

"This has all got to do with Mr Bo and power politics. She is a suspect in a murder trial, so why state so clearly that her rank will not protect her. The way the People's Daily article was written suggests she is already guilty – it's politically driven," said Mr Tsang.

In the absence of hard facts, analysts are scouring the recent past for clues, such as when Mr Bo's former key lieutenant and security chief, Wang Lijun, sought asylum in the US consulate in Chengdu, the Sichuan capital.

A possible explanation is that while investigating Mr Heywood's death, he discovered something that made him so frightened that he made this almost suicidal decision to enter the consulate. The central authorities then saw the opportunity to build up a case against Mr Bo.

"It would not surprise me to learn that Mr Heywood had died without it being murder. But since the body is cremated, there is not much evidence to prove murder or otherwise. It is almost impossible for Gu Kailai to have a fair trial," said Mr Tsang.

Ho-fung Hung, associate professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, in the US, believes efforts to unseat Mr Bo have been in the works since late last year, when investigators began sniffing around his associates in his former fiefdoms. "There is good reason to speculate that Mr Heywood knew something about Bo Xilai and his family," he said.

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